Trump vs. Clinton: The Better Candidate Doesn't Win, the Better Marketer Does

You Can't Argue With Clinton's Slogan -- and That's Just Part of the Problem

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Credit: Donald J. Trump for President, Inc.

Regardless of what happens in November, the Presidential election will be remembered as a testimonial to the power of marketing.

How did a business person with no political experience propel himself to be in a position to perhaps upset the world's most-experienced politician?

The answer is marketing.

The most important ingredient in marketing is to stake out a unique claim that differentiates your brand from everybody else's brand. Love him or hate him, that's exactly what Donald Trump has done, starting with his classic rant against Mexican immigrants.

Both Trump and Bernie Sanders understood that controversy creates news and news build brands. The media unwittingly helped build both of their brands by not only reporting their controversial statements, but also by taking issue with many of them.

This had the effect of strengthening the viewpoints among people who agreed with Trump and Sanders. It's the old marketing maxim: Ignore your competition, don't debate them.

The minute you debate your opponent, you create the impression that they have a legitimate argument. So the media is turning out to be Trump's biggest ally, the opposite of what many of them intended.

Hillary Clinton, on the other hand, made the classic marketing mistake. She has not focused on one specific issue. Nor have any of her issues created much controversy.

As a matter of fact, she tries to appeal to everyone by giving away all kinds of goodies to children, students, parents and retired people. She should have heeded the old marketing principle: If you try to appeal to everybody, you're in danger of appealing to no one.

What does her slogan, "Stronger together," really mean? What did her previous slogans such as "Fighting for us" or "I'm with her" mean?

There's no doubt that Trump's slogan, "Make America great again," is controversial because it appeals to people who don't think America is on the right track. It creates controversy because it gets an argument going with people who do think America is doing well.

Who can argue with Hillary's slogan "Stronger together?" It creates no controversy nor any reason for rebuttals.

Her slogan is so weak that Jessie Jackson in his Democratic convention speech tried to help her out with a concoction of his own: "It's healing time. It's hope time. It's Hillary time."

Many of the other speakers at the Democratic convention played into Trump's hands. President Barack Obama, reacting to Trump's slogan, insisted that "America is already great. America is already strong."

And, he added, " I promise you, our strength, our greatness does not depend on Donald Trump."

But, according to the latest Rasmussen Report, only 24% of likely voters think the country is heading in the right direction. So President Obama's words only reinforce Trump's point.

A candidate often wins or loses on Day One, the day he or she throws the proverbial hat into the ring. When Barack Obama announced his entry into the 2008 Presidential race, he hammered the idea of change -- "Change we can believe in." And then he focused his entire campaign on the same idea until the November election which he won big.

Hillary, on the other hand, was all over the place during that primary. She started with: "Big challenges, real solutions: Time to pick a President."

Then she moved onto: "Renew the promise of American." And then: "In to win." And then: "Working for change, working for you." And then: "Countdown to change." (An attempt to play off Obama's idea.)

Then it was onto: "Ready for change, ready to lead." And then: "Solutions for America." (Ironically, the same marketing vacillation she is showing in the 2016 campaign.)

But is Trump really a one-issue candidate? Hasn't he taken a lot of positions on other issues like NATO, taxes, trade, etc?

He sure has, but this is one of the realities of a political campaign. The media forces candidates to express their ideas about a host of issues. That's why it's extremely important for any political candidate to forcefully establish a single position on Day One. A position that can weather the media storm in the months to come.

Whether Trump wins or loses, marketers should emulate his playbook by using more controversy in their ads. These days, advertising campaigns have been pretty bland. And maybe that's why many established brands have been losing market share to upstart products.

In the past, marketers scored big when they pushed the envelope. Remember Clairol's "Does she or doesn't she?" And Calvin Klein's "Nothing comes between me and my Calvins?" And Maidenform's "I dreamed I was . . . . . . in my Maidenform bra?"

Or even Volkswagen's "Think small?"

In the day when the automotive standard was big shinny cars, the VW campaign was shocking. It led to such memorable headlines such as: "It makes your house look bigger." And, "If you run out of gas, it's easy to push."

The better product doesn't necessarily win in the marketplace. And the better person doesn't necessarily win in the political arena.

But what does win, more often than not, is the better marketing strategy.

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