Donald Trump’s election is a victory for emotion-led marketing

Donald Trump has succeeded in appealing to voters’ emotions during the US presidential campaign, but marketers should not rush to copy the tycoon’s tactics.

Donald Trump often uses terms that fall outside the normal boundaries of political correctness.
Donald Trump often uses terms that fall outside the normal boundaries of political correctness. Photo credit Gage Skidmore.

This article was first published on 3 October. It has been updated to reflect the election result.

Trying to identify marketing lessons from Donald Trump’s victory in the presidential election might seem like a foolhardy task. Since entering the race to become the Republican candidate last year, the business tycoon and star of The Apprentice has embraced controversy and offended a huge cross-section of the American population, including women, the disabled and various ethnic minorities.

Yet despite all these issues, Trump shocked the world by winning the race to become the 45th president of the United States. There is no suggestion that marketers should embrace the Trump playbook, but neither is there much point in simply expressing surprise at his political ascent.

Many analysts point to similarities between Trump’s success and the victory of the Vote Leave campaign in the EU referendum earlier this year. It is clear that appealing directly to emotions – often using terms that fall outside the normal boundaries of political correctness – is a tactic with growing traction in political marketing. This approach also serves the purpose of gaining publicity and media coverage on the cheap, both on social channels and more traditional outlets.

READ MORE: Hillary Clinton’s chief strategist Joel Benenson on bringing campaign tactics to brands

But while political marketing is ferocious because it is geared around fixed election periods, brand building is a long-term pursuit where marketers do not have the luxury of making unattainable promises – or enemies that they cannot win back. Understanding the reasons for Trump’s rise and adapting to them does not necessarily mean acting more like Trump.

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