Advertising has long-been a vital cog in the modern democratic election machine. “It’s morning in America.” and all that. But in light of Donald Trump’s election triumph, in particular the way it seemingly caught media and polling professionals by surprise, the traditional art of political persuasion is being understandably questioned.
In a Hollywood Reporter column, Michael Wolff wrote simply, “The media turned itself into the opposition and, accordingly, was voted down as the new political reality emerged: Ads don’t work, polls don’t work, celebrities don’t work, media endorsements don’t work, ground games don’t work.”
Looking back at the Hillary Clinton campaign’s ad strategy, AdAge‘s Simon Dumenco dissected the role advertising strategy played in the election outcome, writing, “in the end Team Trump did, in fact, plow a ton of money into advertising–and it cunningly, strategically outperformed tone-deaf Team Clinton . . . To put that another way, Clinton badly screwed up her ad game.”
And Clinton’s ad game had some pretty heavy hitters on its side, including Droga5 executive creative director Kevin Brady, who worked on HRC’s “Role Models” spot, and Goodby Silverstein & Partners, which ran its own anti-Trump ads.
Now that we have President-elect Trump, I asked a handful of creative advertising leaders for their reaction, and how they think this result will impact their work, the business, and industry. Some were reluctant to voice an opinion–hey, as Michael Jordan may or may not have said, Republicans buy shoes too, right?–while others offered both their personal takes, and how the result will inform their work going forward.
In a statement, Droga5 founder and creative chairman David Droga said, “Regardless of how I feel personally, I cannot dismiss the outcome,” Droga5 Creative Chairman and Founder David Droga said. “Because that’s the thing about true democracy, you can’t only believe and support it when it goes your way. We just need to move forward with open minds and mutual respect for one another, as that will define more where we are going, than the election result itself.”
Goodby Silverstein & Partners chair Jeff Goodby was able to find his silver lining. “As dark as it might seem right now, especially here in California, there might be positive lesson in this thing,” Goodby says. “Whether you like him or not, Mr. Trump is proof that a person with strong beliefs and a sense of the moment can accomplish a lot. He stepped out in front of the world, warts and all, without the support of his own party even, and still won.”
For Jaime Robinson, co-founder and chief creative officer at JOAN, while personally disappointed, the election also revealed some key professional insights. “The 3% conference was the week before the election and there was a palpable buzz in the hall that was undeniable–things are changing,” says Robinson. “This election, Hillary and so much of what she stands for was a big part of that. Truly, many of us are heartbroken at Joan . . . the sloppy, ugly-cry kind of heartbroken. But we also believe this means that it’s more important than ever to do work that really resonates with women, and frankly, any audience that’s been marginalized or feels misunderstood. The fact that pollsters got it so wrong makes us hungry to understand our audiences even better. To find more honest sources of data, and also to listen with open minds to what people are actually saying, even (and maybe especially) if it’s not what we want or expect to hear. That’s a scary thing to do. But it’s the only way we are ever going to change opinions –on anything from how we should treat other people to what kind of laundry detergent we buy.”
The day after the election Butler, Shine, Stern & Partners executive creative director Keith Cartwright talked about the pitfalls of the social echo chamber. “Last night was a difficult night,” said Cartwright. “This morning brought me some clarity. As I scrolled through my Facebook and Twitter streams I heard and felt my social community hurting just like me. There in lies the problem. During this campaign we heard ourselves loud and clear, echoing destain, for the other side. We stopped listening. We ignored the beating drum. I hear it now.”
Glenn Cole, co-founder and chief creative officer of 72andSunny sees Trump’s win as a blindfold coming off the country. “For me, the big ‘aha’ of all this is the realization that we (Americans) don’t really know each other, or what drives each other,” says Cole. “We think we do. We say we do. We point to data and research and polls and whatever else, but it has become painfully apparent that there’s a giant hole in our collective awareness. We have been blind and now we’re coming out of blindness, which hurts. We’re realizing that we don’t really know one another like we thought we did. The gulf between urban folks and rural folks, between young and old, between genders and ethnicities and ideologies is greater than we all thought. For those of us working in marketing, we have a clear job to do: to better understand the people with whom we are tasked with connecting. That’s our work and our opportunity; to find the new truth. Then hopefully, with our brand partners, we use it to help bring the country together.”
J. Walter Thompson CEO Tamara Ingram says the election reinforced ideas marketers have been talking about for a while, from the importance of an authentic brand voice (whether you agree with that voice or not), to more diverse research methodologies that go beyond asking people what they’ll do (because, um, people lie about that kind of thing). As a British citizen, Ingram’s initial impression of Trump’s win was around its effect on Brand America, comparing it to how Brexit has painted the UK in the eyes of many around the globe.
“The narrative of the leader of the democratic world is very important and as a global company, what people say about how it makes them feel about America has some impact,” says Ingram. “People are very sad, because people want this great country with a brilliant history of democracy, freedom, immigration, and innovation to keep doing those things that have enabled the world to grow. So I think the world is looking nervous, and it doesn’t seem true to American values.
“I’m sure that Brexit, talking about my own country, affected people’s perception of how open we are to foreign students and others. My belief is that it will have an affect on how young people–and young people are more fluid in their beliefs about people from different places, with divergent attitudes towards sexuality and coming from different cultures–so if we want to be a country of youth and innovation, I think it will affect the perception of America. And as a result could affect being the place of talent, or where talent wants to be. But it’s very, very early to tell.”
Venables Bell & Partners founder and chairman Paul Venables, echoes Ingram on what the election illustrates about certain aspects of marketing research. “This election suggests that if traditional marketing research is anything like polling data, it’s utterly useless,” says Venables.
During the election CP+B LA chief creative officer Kevin Jones created a site that compared Donald Trump quotes to those of George Washington. Jones says he thinks the election results will have a significant impact on the industry. “I must say that my first reaction was shock. And then I immediately felt naïve that I didn’t see this coming and didn’t work harder to prevent it,” says Jones. “When I look at the efforts we made to support Hillary, I realize that we might not have put our best foot forward, that there wasn’t a complete understanding on our end of what was driving the Trump supporters. That said, I think this election will have a big impact on advertising, in that we probably all have to examine what is happening in this country and how to readjust our advertising tools to be more effective moving forward. One other thing we’ve been feeling here, based how this election played out, is that we need to put even more effort behind our industry-wide diversity and gender-equality initiatives. That seems to be one way that we can put our money where our mouth is.”