In the Wake of the Election: Humble Pie With a Dash of Bragging

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Credit: Joe Raedle/Getty Images

The presidential election didn't go the way I thought it would. But I wasn't completely caught off guard by the results.

And for that, I should take a moment to thank the legions of Donald Trump supporters who cluttered up my Facebook feed throughout this election cycle.

They often saddened me, angered me, drove me to typing 200-word comments only to delete them without posting them. Some are friends, some are family. Some are those mysterious college-educated women who voted for Trump. All together, there are a lot of them.

Which is why, come election night, I was only a little surprised -- certainly not as surprised as a number of TV journalists who were in the unenviable position of being completely unable to hide their shock from the millions of people watching at home.

What did surprise me was the confidence of pundits, data analysts, journalists, ad-industry insiders and Hillary Clinton supporters throughout the day. Granted, younger voters might not have remembered George W. Bush versus Al Gore in 2000 or Bush versus John Kerry in 2008. But surely everyone remembered how wrong they'd been about Donald Trump at every step of the way over the last two years.

I include myself in the Being Wrong About Trump category. I wrote the following bit of prophecy in December of last year: "We've heard more than enough screaming from -- and about -- Trump for one election cycle. I hate making predictions because I hate being wrong, but I expect we'll be hearing less and less of him come January."

I was wrong then. I was wrong a couple of more times. So by the time the actual election rolled around, I thought to myself, "You know, you could be wrong again."

I was reminded of that every time I pulled up Facebook.

I also had some excellent Ad Age reporting to set me straight. Anyone paying attention to our Campaign Trail coverage knew that the Clinton forces were vastly outspending Trump for most of the year and that they were creating better-looking advertising. Online, we posted a lot more Clinton-related stuff because, from a creative point of view, it was usually "better." But better creative typically doesn't win in politics, especially if it's up against clear and simple messaging. In August, Al Ries and Rance Crain chimed in with a piece titled "The Better Candidate Doesn't Win, the Better Marketer Does."

And you should definitely read Simon Dumenco's piece in this issue for more on that.

Where was Simon's so-insightful analysis ahead of the election? Glad you asked. He actually wrote a piece called "Yes He Can? Here's How Trump Could Win" back in September.

When I assigned that piece about Trump, I thought for sure Simon would come back with the exact opposite. Just as I thought Lindsay Stein, when we assigned her to write a piece about the reality of Trump's marketing, would come back with something that found it lacking. But reporting and analysis went the other way, so we ran a piece in March titled "Love Him or Hate Him, Marketers Can Learn a Thing or Two From Donald Trump." Both of those made part of me think, "This is going to make us look bad when this is all over." And both of those we put on the cover of the magazine.

Running these sometimes required me getting out of the way, or at least climbing out of my own bubble.

I've written about bubbles in this space before. We all live in some sort of bubble to a degree. Trump supporters have their own, of course. It's noisy in there. But the media, especially New York-based media, have a much thicker bubble, it seems, judging by how often they're shocked by this sort of thing. As a registered Republican who voted for neither Clinton nor Trump, I like to think that I'm beyond bubbles, but I know better.

Anytime we cover politics, we get unhinged reactions from one side or the other. Or both. Last Wednesday, we were yelled at on Twitter for daring to analyze the Clinton campaign's advertising rather than forming a support group to heal the ad-industry people obviously heartbroken about their candidate's loss.

But I did receive this email on the same day:

"Hey Ken, I read the piece by Simon Dumenco today and thought it was very good. In fact, your coverage of the entire election process was first rate. It added layers of insight I think the public in general could have benefitted from—had they had the willingness to read it. ... The 'media' missed this call so badly, I really have a hard time trusting the mainstream media at all anymore. (And this from a New York Times subscriber/news junkie for years.) But your magazine's candid assessment of the campaign—both good and bad on either side of the aisle—allows me some hope that fair, honest, insightful journalism can still be found. Thanks to you and your staff for that. At a time when I was losing faith in both government and the media you guys have reminded me that some people can still be trusted."

Am I bragging? Of course I am. Am I taking credit for something I had little control over and sometimes resisted? Not really. I give the credit to the staff that did the work—likely putting aside their own political inclinations. I also give credit to the Trump-supporting family and friends for bursting my bubble on an almost daily basis.

And I also suggest to anyone in media, marketing and advertising whose job it is to understand consumers and/or sell them things to make sure you're not living in a bubble.

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