Advertising Donald Trump

Why Donald Trump is a shot in the arm for brand activism

By Andrew Eborn and Richard J. Hillgrove VI, Columnists

March 1, 2017 | 6 min read

He’s brought them out in droves – the likes of Scarlett Johansson and Jake and Maggie Gyllenhaal marching in solidarity with their brothers and sisters.

Donald Trump, CNN

And then there was Meryl Streep speaking out and getting a standing ovation at the Oscars for her “overrated” career – that's the career in the other envelope together with the Alternative Winners.

Good for them, and great publicity around the awards season. You could argue they should be thanking him.

And the award for best president of the United States goes to… Donald J. Trump.

Wait, what? No, this isn’t an alternative Oscar, but the president will definitely go down in history. It’s all about what he’s setting in motion as a catalyst for change, change that just might not be what he’s aiming for.

The very divisiveness of his policies could win him the sobriquet Trump the Unifier. He’s certainly the first politician in history to be castigated for actually doing what he promised to do – such is the polarising effect of his extreme measures.

Think of The Donald this way. He revolts a great many people. Easy-going, ordinary people recoil from him, as they might gag at the sight of a maggot. But while maggots may induce the gagging reflex when you see them in a horror film or extreme game show, they do have their uses.

The humble maggot can’t exactly clear the swamp, but it can be used to clean away dead and infected skin on a wound and accelerate healing.

Donald Trump is doing the hitherto impossible. He’s unifying a range of disparate groups against a common enemy – him and all he stands for.

He could be the best thing for brand activism going….

All around the world, couch potatoes are being spurred into action. They’ve had their chips. Even the face of Walkers Crisps has joined the face-off as Gary Lineker marched with the throng recently against Trump’s UK visit and Muslim ban.

Hundreds of thousands around the world have been compelled to hit the streets to protest the president’s policies. In the UK, two million people have voted against Trump’s impending State visit.

And so it spreads beyond Trump-town and Trump policy. Brands like Walkers are being shown where it’s at when it comes to ethics in advertising as Lineker himself led the call for them to withdraw advertising from anti-refugee media outlets.

The grass is taking roots, but it needed a specific brand of manure to create fertile ground. Enter President Trump, shit-stirrer extraordinaire.

Unrest finds a natural home in popular music. No one has yet penned a presidential protest anthem but at a recent awards ceremony Debbie Harry said Trump was “putting everyone on their toes and that’s wonderful”.

She echoed Dame Vivienne Westwood’s slogan with her Politicians Are Criminals badge, saying: “Activism is more important now, that is the lesson we are learning.”

Right on, Debbie. It’s the post-punk New Order of things, upping the ante against power, corruption and lies.

President Trump is a shot in the arm against the sleeping sickness pandemic that has gripped the world. Suddenly people are wondering how we got into this fix, and they’re fighting back, antibodies fighting the infection.

For marketeers, it means shifting from having a brand purpose to acting on it. Don’t just mean it, do it. Have the courage of your convictions and hook your market with the heat of your campaign.

Young people hate celebrities cynically preaching good causes. Marketing content that drops in a famous face doesn’t always resonate.

We’d do well to pay attention to the 16 to 24-year-old age group, our future big spenders once they get on the career path. Research shows a massive 81 per cent of that age group prefer brand campaigns that use real people.

While the president of the US attacks homosexuality and transgender rights, a YouGov poll shows 49 per cent of 18-24 year-olds define themselves as something other than totally heterosexual.

According to Voxburner 75 per cent don’t care about race, gender, religion or income when it comes to friends. Meanwhile, the anti-refugee, anti-Muslim, anti-LGBT, anti-welfare rhetoric pours out of a very white White House.

It’s got to hit home, and we’re not just seeing an upsurge of traditional insurgency. Voxburner’s Youth100 report shows that 74 per cent of 16-24 year-old think online activism can make the same impact, if not more, as traditional activism.

YouTube is playing its part. We all feared we’d drown under the dumbed down offerings of YouTubers celebrating nose picking, farting, anti-culture and chubby bunny challenges.

It was painful to see how the inane was gaining vast tribal followings, how a man stuffing marshmallows in to his mouth could attract millions of views, but a salve was at hand.

The grass roots protest at Standing Rock against the Dakota pipeline grew tall and flourished on YouTube and other social media with millions around the world tuning in and offering support.

According to the BBC, the first three episodes of Planet Earth II attracted more viewers in the 16 to 34 age bracket than The X Factor on ITV. Planet Earth II’s second episode- the one about mountains - brought in 1.8 million young viewers compared to The X Factor’s 1.4 million that week.

Young people adore issues like climate change. They have energy and can get mobilise behind a cause as quick as you like through social media. It’s a marketeer’s wet dream - but it can easily become a nightmare.

Play the Trump card by all means, but make sure there’s authenticity behind any campaign that’s aimed at harnessing hearts and minds.

If those teen spirits sniff out a sham, then it’s wham, bam – no thank you, ma’am.

Bang On! @andreweborn @OctopusTV @6Hillgrove

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