Marketing lessons from the U.S. election

Election vet David Rosenberg of Bensimon Byrne discusses what marketers can learn from Trump's win.
New York State Of Mind

This article appears in the January/February 2017 issue of strategy.

Donald Trump’s victory in November left marketers with questions both practical and existential – from the implications for market research and media strategies to the relevance of messaging in advertising.

We asked Bensimon Byrne partner and CCO David Rosenberg, who led the 2015 Justin Trudeau election campaign, about Donald Trump’s win and some of the takeaways for marketers.

On the topic of whether there’s a need to tweak the aspirational thrust of advertising messages portraying the goals of “coastal elites,” Rosenberg said his agency’s research, going as far back as 2008, had revealed “a shocking urban-rural divide in Canada,” while the marketing industry remains “ultra-urban.”

“For truly mass market brands, we’ve tried to better understand the different aspirational goals of Canadians who reside in cities smaller than one million people,” he said in an email interview.
“But we believe the answer, post-Trump, is not populism or even anti-cosmopolitan messaging. It’s simply a return to the universal human truths that rely less on the kinds of trends and experiences most often seen in urban centres.”

Then there’s the question of election advertising. Trump defied orthodoxy, relying on earned media from rallies and his Twitter feed. Hillary Clinton raised roughly twice as much money as Trump, and spent far more on advertising throughout the campaign. An Ad Age story showed the 10 most-shared ads of the campaign were all from Clinton’s camp. So how will Trump’s media approach influence future campaigns?

Trump’s playbook won’t work for everyone, Rosenberg says. Campaigns are built around a specific context and a candidate’s strengths. “But yes, it’s safe to say that media (and creative) trends in political advertising are ever-evolving and ever-copied, so much will be learned and put into practice, post-Trump.”

As the president-elect prepares for his inauguration, what he does in office could be the biggest influence on any copycat behavior, Rosenberg says. Failure to live up to his rhetoric could alienate Trump’s constituency, “which could create greater skepticism of the next populist, late-night-Twitter-addicted demagogue to come along.”