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What the US election results really mean for marketing innovators

By Jeff Tan | Innovation solutions officer

November 10, 2020 | 7 min read

As the US braces for the realities of a government divided, what impact will President-elect Biden and a Republican-controlled Congress have on marketing innovation? Here are eight predictions from Dentsu’s innovation solutions officer, Jeff Tan.

Like countless billions around the world, my fingernails were increasingly bitten away over the past week. It took four days for the major networks to forecast that Joe Biden will win the presidency. Republicans will likely scrape through with retaining control of the Senate, and Democrats will keep the House – albeit with a slimmer majority. So, what does this mean for brand marketers and innovators? Here are the eight likely outcomes of a Biden presidency and divided Congress...


1. Stricter lockdowns will lead to more innovation from impacted industries

Companies will be watching how a Democratic administration handles the Covid-19 pandemic. Biden has promised a “trust the science” approach, likely promoting more short-term localized shutdowns. This will mean economic pain, but a faster road to recovery. With cold weather approaching in the US, brands will have more of an incentive to innovate or face long-term pain. I believe that innovation thrives when given the freedom of a tight brief, and lockdowns will force innovation from industries most impacted, such as hospitality. This will require co-operation from governments and business, such as the conversion of parking lots and sidewalks into outdoor dining areas in Los Angeles.

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2. More focus on attributable media due to tighter budgets

Despite how effective the US is at getting the pandemic under control, Covid will continue to impact business revenues significantly in 2021. As we’ve seen this year, reduced cash flows mean less marketing budgets but with a greater expectation to extract more out of every dollar via operational innovation. Companies will be selective with any innovation projects they undertake, addressing their most pressing needs. There will be greater emphasis on more attributable media channels and martech – increased investment in cookie-less technologies, stronger programmatic solutions and more accurate and informative analytics.

3. Life will go on for global media partners

With a divided government, it is unlikely that progressive desires to break up the tech giants will be achieved. President-elect Biden will tone down the zero-sum rhetoric Trump waged on Chinese technology companies, and my prediction is the executive orders against TikTok will be repealed. Biden’s yet-to-be-named Attorney General will probably discontinue the Justice Department’s antitrust litigation against Google’s monopoly. In short, life for media partners such as Google, Facebook, Amazon and TikTok will continue largely as is.

4. A reversal of immigration restrictions will lead to greater innovation

Biden will almost certainly reverse immigration restrictions from the Trump era. This will include significantly increasing the allocation of the skilled migration H-1B and L visas for temporary workers and clearing the backlog of visas to be processed. This is personal for me – as an Australian, I came to the US in 2014 on an L-1 visa. I firmly believe that greater mobility and increasing overseas talent will drive more innovation in the marketing services and technology industries.

5. Brands will differentiate with climate initiatives

On day one, Biden will likely rejoin the Paris Agreement to combat the threat of climate change. The tone will be set from the top and pressure placed on businesses to take global warming seriously. Expect more announcements from companies like Dentsu pledging a path to net zero-emission goals. Brands will appeal to younger climate-conscious consumers by developing innovative climate-friendly initiatives that satisfy both investors need and societal need.

6. Marketers will gain inspiration from Biden’s cognitively diverse Cabinet

To gain Senate approval, Biden will ensure his Cabinet contains a blend of moderate and even conservative voices. This cognitively diverse leadership will result in incremental change, versus the radical change that progressive voices had hoped for. This is a smart and necessary move. Harvard research suggests that an environment ripe for innovation is one containing people who think differently. Our industry can certainly learn from this.

7. A stalemate in tax policy won’t impact innovative progress

Assuming that Biden will struggle to pass any significant tax policy with a Republican senate, expect Trump’s 2017 tax cuts to remain in place. A Columbia Law School study suggesting corporate tax cuts lead to higher-quality innovation will mean that any (unlikely) increases a Biden administration would enact could have the opposite effect. With a divided government meaning a continuation of the status quo, the S&P 500’s reaction to the election results indicated that Wall Street felt positive about this.

8. Brands will take political stances carefully

It was clear that Trumpism wasn’t wholeheartedly rejected as many predicted. If anything, Trump increased his influence with the second most election votes in history after Biden. If you’re a major brand looking for widespread appeal, be careful of alienating either side and remember that 70 million people voted for Trump and his Twitter following is the sixth largest globally. That being said brands will still likely take a political stand to garner attention. Think Nordstrom dropping Ivanka Trump’s clothing line that led to a boycott from conservatives, or Goya Foods’ praising of Trump that ultimately led to a boycott from liberal consumers.

In the end, we will see more innovation as a result of the pandemic – reduced budgets will lead to greater operational innovation need, and a more urgent need to command attention with tactical initiatives. Companies will take political stances cautiously and will differentiate by creating sustainable innovation models to combat climate change and engage new audiences. Will the shifts be radical? Probably not, but we will move forward all the same.

Jeff Tan is the innovation solutions officer at Dentsu.

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