The President of the United States is one of those rare talents. He is a branding savant. He always has been—I remember driving into Manhattan when I was a teenager in the 80s and my dad pointing out the glistening Trump Tower. Many of us remember him coining the catchphrase “You’re fired!” when "The Apprentice" went on air. All of us remember him convincing 49 percent of the voters in the United States to “Make America Great Again.”
He is deeply talented. Which is why—right now, at such a critical moment in American history—it is such a terrible shame that he seems more motivated to use that talent to further a mysterious and divisive agenda than to protect and serve the American people.
Over a period two hours last week, Trump tweeted the phrase “Chinese Virus” three times. Capital C. Capital V. Minutes later, he stood at a podium in a press conference and worked hard to reinforce the notion that COVID-19 had a new nickname. There he was, branding.
This naturally emboldened racists to act out. There have been many news reports of Asian-Americans being assaulted, both verbally and physically, in recent days. One idiot I went to high school with shared a post on Facebook saying, “America is officially Shut Down over a Flu Virus. Good job China. Good job Democrats. Well done Media.” The troops have been rallied.
But Trump insists that his tweet wasn’t racist:
“It's not racist at all, no, not at all. It comes from China, that's why. I want to be accurate. China was putting out information, which was false, that our military gave this to them. That was false. And rather than having an argument, I said I had to call it where it came from.”
Giving President Trump the benefit of the doubt, what I see here is branding power being used to fuel a destructive and petty tit-for-tat—while inadvertently and belligerently stoking the fires of racism.
Still, not a good look.
This is a missed opportunity for the power of branding to be applied to help people at a time when the hearts and minds of Americans hang in the balance.
Elsewhere, we are seeing branding being used to make a positive impact.
Where it started is unknown, but newspapers and celebrities all rushed to help brand the concept of singing 20-second songs while you’re washing hands. That has helped quickly disseminate the important information to all Americans that we need to wash our hands for 20 seconds to eradicate coronavirus contamination. That is a positive impact.
Latin American e-commerce chain Mercado Libre changed its logo from two hands shaking to two elbows bumping to help brand the concept of not shaking hands during the crisis. That is a positive impact.
NextDoor has quickly launched a Help Map feature to its app, enabling users to alert neighbors in high-risk groups that they are available to help during the coronavirus pandemic. Positive impact.
On St. Patrick’s Day, Guinness reminded us to look out for each other with a message that “When you raise a pint of Guinness, also remember to raise each other up.” That reminder is yet another example of positive impact.
Experienced marketers know that creative is only as good as the brief that inspires it. You need to define a clear and worthwhile objective to make sure the brilliant ideas you create lead to a desirable outcome.
President Trump has the talent. His intuitive sense of how to brand an idea is undeniable. But he really needs a better brief. It’s time the president adds some methodology to his madness.