As Donald Trump takes the political world by storm and continues to surprise voters with his unorthodox campaign tactics, many are left wondering whether his popularity is merely a result of stunt marketing or if his controversial outbursts have built his brand up enough to see him running for president in 2016.
Yet one thing’s for sure: Trump has managed to keep all eyes on him in a crowded field of candidates that is already interesting enough without his antics. Just the Republican primary race alone consists of 17 presidential hopefuls, including former President George W. Bush’s brother Jeb Bush, neurosurgeon Ben Carson, and former chief executive HP Carly Fiorina.
“A lot of commentators have described this as the summer of Trump,” said Carolyn Ryan, Washington bureau chief and politics editor at the New York Times.
Trump’s run so far has provided an interesting look at how marketing and branding techniques can have astronomical effects on a person, helping even the unlikeliest of candidates gain traction in an election that’s shaping up to be one of the most interesting in America’s history.
The real estate mogul and ‘Celebrity Apprentice’ host has said little of substance to date regarding what policies he’d enact while in office, but it hasn’t stopped the media from following his every move or the public from tuning in to see what he has to say. In fact, Fox’s Republican primary debate earlier this month was watched by 24 million viewers according to data from Nielsen, making it the highest-rated primary debate in television history with its success largely attributed to Trump.
His presence on Twitter is likely one of the key reasons he’s experienced burgeoning public interest. He often tweets out his thoughts, comments, and observations in a voice that appears to be uniquely his own, instead of a social media manager who is strategizing and planning each tweet. It stands in stark contrast to Democratic frontrunner Hillary Clinton’s Twitter account, a carefully managed series of tweets and retweets that are only actually written by her when signed ‘H.’
“He has made himself very accessible and he is constantly on social media,” said Aaron Kwittken, global chairman and chief executive of public relations firm Kwittken. ”I think that’s probably what’s driving a lot of the campaign right now.”
But it’s not just Trump’s social media presence that sets him apart. His willingness to speak candidly about controversial subjects, even when his opinions are unpopular, is refreshing to voters who have become accustomed to humdrum speeches and media statements.
“Much of American politics has become scripted and not spontaneous,” said Ryan, adding that rarely do voters get to hear candidates say something that truly reveals their character.
Founding partner of SS+K Lenny Stern, whose agency served as Obama’s youth agency of record in both 2008 and 2012, said it’s a universal truth that people yearn for authenticity. Whether it’s from a brand or a political candidate, he said people want to get the feeling that they at least get what they see and see what they get – whether it’s good or bad.
“Whether people want to judge Trump in a million ways, I do think there is a population that looks at him as a breath of fresh air. He speaks his mind and he says what he thinks. You never get a poll-tested answer and there’s nothing fake,” he said. “It may be abhorrent to some people and what is authentic about him may be offensive to many people. But I think in general, people like people who seem to be true to who they are.”
Kwittken said the way Trump presents himself is a “180 degree difference from Hillary Clinton, who has made herself incredibly inaccessible and has been quite evasive.” She’s remained mum on why she used a private email account on a non-government email server while serving as US Secretary of State from 2009-2013, which the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FB) is now reviewing.
Whether or not Trump stays in the race long enough to become a serious contender in the Republican primary is yet to be determined, but he’s currently winning the battle for social buzz on Twitter. According to social media analytics company Spredfast, he’s received 47 per cent of candidate mentions. Clinton is far behind in second with 17 per cent and Bernie Sanders is in third with 8 per cent.
He receives about 143 tweets per minute, and while a number of them are poking fun at or criticizing the billionaire businessman, there’s no denying that the spotlight is on Trump.
Yet Ryan said things could begin to change after Labor Day this year, when a “new seriousness typically sets in” among the political class, donors, and activists.
“I think we’re entering a period where there will be demand for him to engage in real issues,” she said.
Stern echoed a similar sentiment, saying he doesn’t think Trump’s temporary success will lead to long term victory.
“It’s one thing to say, ‘I’m going to introduce something better than Obamacare,’ but where is his plan?” he said. “If a brand is built only on communications tactics, bold statements, and PR-earning stunts and doesn’t have firm policy positions, I think the candidacy falls apart and I think a brand falls apart.”
Like it or not, Trump has created a personal brand for himself that has grabbed the attention of both the media and the public. Only time will tell if it is strong enough to weather the questioning, investigations, and criticisms that are sure to intensify as the 2016 race heats up.