It’s come to this – the surviving front-runners are two candidates who arguably don’t represent the very best that America has to offer, each with roughly equal numbers of fervid backers and haters.
Hillary has a ton of baggage and a calculatedly vanilla platform, but has successfully pushed back a true Hope and Change candidate who generated real excitement among a specific segment (whether Bernie’s plans are made of fiscal tissue is another story).
More remarkably, The Donald has so far outlasted a number of impressive candidates, including career politicians, outsiders, tough-talkers and business leaders. And he has done this while dragging the level of discourse to grade school level, and with no actual detailed plans.
How have Hillary and The Donald managed these feats? The answer (once again) sheds light on the power of brands (and more depressingly on the nature of the voting public).
The answer is their tails. They have extremely long tails that have been growing for decades. By tail I refer to the lasting impact of their brand that follows them around. Their competitors simply do not have such tails.
Hillary has been on the scene since Bill was sworn in as President in January 1993.
- That’s 23 years in the national spotlight, increasing with her stints as Senator and SOS (not to mention the occasional scandal).
- The nature of her image is rather consistent as well – – ambitious, smart, determined, not especially a people person. Has anything changed?
The Donald has been on the scene even longer – – back to the 1970s.
According to Wikipedia, “Trump initially came to public attention in 1973 when he was accused by the Justice Department of violations of the Fair Housing Act in the operation of 39 buildings.”
- In fact, as early as the 1980s he had already established his brand – – wealthy, brash, a winner.
- ‘Lethal Weapon 2’ (1989) described a huge trove of cash as “Millions – billions…the Donald Trump Lotto”. (watch Danny Glover emote in this short video outtake).
The Apprentice did nothing to disrupt this image and was seen by many millions.
That’s decades of brand-building for both, with huge exposure and very consistent brand messages.
None of their competitors even comes close.
- Bernie Sanders has had a consistent socialist brand for decades – 4-term mayor of Burlington VT, a member of the House from 1990, and a Senator from 2005. Impressive, but he did not gain national notoriety until this Presidential race.
- Ted Cruz and Marco Rubio were born in 1970 and 1971, respectively, so when The Donald was cutting his first deal they were literally in short pants, and when Hillary became First Lady they were just out of college. Cruz established a brand as a Tea Party obstructionist, not always a positive image. Rubio is just now establishing his brand.
- John Kasich has a long and distinguished political career, but his brand is weaker in breadth and focused message than the front-runners.
- As for Christie, Fiorina, Carson, Paul, Huckabee, etc – each has significant and admirable success but none has the awareness and consistent image of the leaders.
My point (and I do have one) is that brands count. Brands that have consistently conveyed an image over a long time can provide an amazing perceptual short-cut, so that people think they understand who this product, or candidate is.
When it comes time to choose a candidate, much of the electorate doesn’t have the attention span to investigate positions – – they pick the strongest available brands, which for many naturally leads directly to either The Donald or Hillary.
For many observers of this race, from a policy standpoint Donald Trump is dangerous – – ‘The Devil We Don’t Know’. Who knows what a President Trump might do?
For much of the voting public, however, he’s ‘The Donald We’ve Always Known’. They don’t need to check his actual plans. They’ve known him for years. “He’s not just a winner – he’s our winner.”
Hillary – yes, she has those issues of trust, honesty and all that, but hey, she’s been part of the landscape for a long time, in important positions – and while there’s no strong record of success, she projects success and experience. She can do it!
The simple lesson for brand marketers: keep your brand message strong and consistently support it.
The lesson for the rest of us: New Zealand is looking better and better as a place to live.