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Topics include: Direct to consumer / E-commerce / Data & privacy / Martech

Donald Trump and the end of advertising as we know it

Credit: YouTube

A very long time ago, humanity agreed to be decent to one another. Somewhere, in the history of civilization, we recognized that our success as people relied on a baseline understanding of good citizenry. The rules, of course, were unwritten. Because why would you have to write them down? Society would shame people into playing along. That’s how norms are created.

And Donald Trump is how norms are destroyed.

The thing about norms is that they take forever to create. The guardrails are established over hundreds of millions of interactions. And as slow as they are to establish, they have, historically, been equally slow to rescind. Every once in a while, an outlier event will happen that chips away at them, but the erosion has always been a slow process. Until Donald Trump. Who has conjured the perfect storm of the ultimate soapbox (a presidential candidacy), vast wealth (I’m assuming...still waiting on the tax returns) and inflammatory rhetoric. He has become the great leap-frogger of societal norms. The robber baron of morality. The black swan of values, nuking moral ground that’s supposed to ebb slowly, over time.

Advertising norms are no different than cultural norms. There is decorum -- a set of rules we follow, so as not to offend humanity. But Trump has changed everything, and will change advertising.

Right now, in an agency boardroom somewhere, a client is telling their agency that they want a campaign that “is as bold as Trump.” Or an agency is convincing their client that “it’s OK to run this, Trump has done far worse.” Believe me, it is happening. And to channel a little Trump, it’s going to be a complete disaster. The worst thing that has ever happened in the history of advertising. Horrible.

We could be on the verge of a change in advertising – not necessarily a creative revolution as much as a cultural devolution.

I hope I’m wrong. I hope we, as advertising professionals who have helped to create a baseline decorum, take the high ground. But it’s hard to argue with Trump’s success, which surely oozes into agency boardrooms. He has owned the media cycles. He’s been great at making lots of noise out of little substance. I can see lots of brands wanting to embrace his playbook, to be bold and offensive. The new rule for challenger brands could be to make zealous fans and equally zealous haters. I see lots of ads filled with bigotry and false bravado.

It could be terrible. The worst. A disaster.

Now, I’m going to be Trump. After having said all of that awful stuff, I’m going to completely pivot and suggest the opposite. I’m now going to say that he could change things for the better. I shudder to even type the words that Trump could make something better, but there is the possibility that his fiery audaciousness could improve advertising. Stick with me:

We, as agency people, have always known great creative grabs consumers and refuses to be ignored. But clients have always approved wallpaper (that’s an egregious generalism, but you get what I’m saying.) Maybe Trump will teach clients the benefit of standing out, of taking a stand and getting noticed. Maybe Trump will teach clients that boldness is a virtue, that loudness can make up for a perceived lack of substance. Maybe Trump’s influence will actually lead to a creative revolution that we haven’t seen since Bernbach and Ogilvy in the 60’s. Maybe clients and agencies will use Trump’s media success as a leaping off point to create advertising that gets noticed (and maybe even create the first mobile campaign that isn’t a complete waste of money.) Maybe clients and agencies will join hands and acknowledge that the first rule of creative should be that it cuts through indifference and actually gets people to care.

At my agency, we try to do this, and we will give none of the credit to Trump. We think that brands are fighting societal indifference on a massive scale, and that the first goal of any brand communication should be that it gets consumers to give a shit.

It’s hard to argue that Trump hasn’t been successful at that. People give a shit about Trump. End of sentence. The future of communications will undeniably be altered by his influence. The question is: are we looking at a future full of offensive grab-assery, or a future full of bold creative that gets people to engage — to give a shit?

The power is in your hands. If it breaks the wrong way (toward dick jokes and racial insensitivity), I blame Trump. If it breaks the right way, (toward messaging that thoughtfully pierces indifference) then I credit us as an industry for learning from The Great Manipulator and using his powerfully subversive rhetoric for good. I know this election is rigged, but I vote for the latter.

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