• Trump & Sanders: Lessons on Marketing Our Companies

    trump_sanders: Lessons for marketingFirst, let me offer this disclaimer: the following thoughts do not advocate any presidential candidate. These are our thoughts on how people react to current political media communications in the United States and tips on how to market our companies in 2016. Okay, we got that out of the way, whew!

    As marketers, we are the experts in the art and science of communication. There are only three considerations when communicating a message: what the communication says, what the medium is, and what the recipient perceives. Any other consideration is irrelevant. The art and science of these communications (the difficult part) is understanding that all three considerations are constantly evolving. That means you as a marketer must have a keen sense of what is happening in the marketplace including everything from understanding the current cultural whims to understanding the economy and how it affects various psychographic groups you will be targeting. Marketers get in trouble when they apply yesterday’s rules to today’s communications. And boy, have the rules changed.

    Nothing illustrates this point more than the current presidential race. All the rules of marketing, packaging, and gross rating points for purchased media have been thrown out of the window. It is simply not working anymore.

    What is working is authenticity; or to be more cynical, perceived authenticity. Americans are more media savvy now than at any other time in history. The populist success of Donald Trump’s and Bernie Sander’s campaigns is based entirely on their authenticity. Americans are so desperate for truth in the marketing messages they consume, something that is not prepackaged and is not slickly sold to them, that they are grasping onto candidates they perceive as authentic even if they occasionally say outrageous things.

    Perhaps it is a result of being exposed to fifteen years of reality TV and listening to characters on TV who espouse ridiculous and profane remarks. Maybe it is the result of being exposed to years of mostly unfiltered content from social media. Nonetheless, they see these candidates as authentic. They are willing to accept flawed authenticity over slick, prepackaged, and pandering candidates because they seem more “real.” The only question they ask is, “Do they appear to ‘walk the walk’ or ‘talk the talk’?”

    Yes, the pandering prepackaged politician is on life support. As is the talking-head news pundit, especially with Millennials and Generation Zs. With new media readily available to anyone with an Internet connection, Americans can research any political topic. Political blog websites like Drudge and Brietbart on the right and Salon, Huffingtonpost, and Media Matters on the left, and all of their connected links to other news sites and blogs, can make any person just as informed as any talking head “expert” on television.

    New media and the resulting democratization of information also give the public complete insight into a business. Websites like Yelp and Glassdoor give anyone with a smart phone and an Internet connection the power to know everything about a company in about an hour. This new media environment has profound implications on us as marketers, for businesses, and for communications as we relate to our customers. Through traditional media, their websites, their social media pages, and their public relations (PR) messages, businesses should all speak with the same overarching brand message. The message should be authentic, and it should not insult their customer’s intelligence.

    As a CEO, CMO, or company spokesperson, you cannot make a misstep in your communications to the public. Trying to cover up a crisis or communicate an inauthentic message is a recipe for disaster. You would think that companies as large as Chipotle or Volkswagen would understand that. But they did not.

    Chipotle, the fast, casual restaurant chain has been riding a wave of great branding for years. They were one of the first brands to offer an alternative to fast food chains like McDonalds, with perceived healthier food, more customized meals, a worker empowered staff, and a sensitivity to social issues. Customers embraced the brand with true affection. Then, the bottom fell out.

    Chipotle’s PR disaster followed a string of food-borne illnesses in its outlets in August. The stock lost 35 percent of its value in six months. The company’s founder and CEO, Steve Ells, apologized for the outbreaks in a December 10 interview on NBC’s Today Show. Why didn’t they do that immediately?

    Volkswagen’s PR disaster followed an emissions scandal, which revealed that software had helped the company circumvent emission rules, rather than undergo the necessary engine modifications—modifications that would have added to production costs. It is going to take an extraordinary amount of time and effort to get customers to trust the Volkswagen brand again.

    Companies need to understand this dynamic when applying it to their creative, both digitally and traditionally. It affects everything from the tone of their TV ads to their digital media communications. Marketing messages that insult the audience’s intelligence by hyping a message or an ad are just as inauthentic as a politician promising the “same ol’, same ol’.” That leaves only three kinds of effective creative for marketing communications these days. Those are: unique selling propositions, commodity-like products and services, and the truly genuine and authentic.

    Unique Selling Proposition (USP)

    Your product or service should solve a real problem for your customers. A problem that other companies cannot fix and have not thought of how to fix. Often times you will see these products marketed on QVC or HSN because it requires more than thirty seconds to communicate their benefits or USP. A USP product or service is also a good place to invest in Google keywords or building a strategic social media-selling plan. If it is truly a USP, then the Google keywords surrounding your business or service are probably not priced too high, especially if you choose variations on the keywords.

    If your USP is a little less obvious, then you need your website and social media pages to relay the story. Find the unique story in your company and elaborate on it with compelling content including writings, images, and video. Every piece of content should flow from your company story.

    Commodity-Like Products and Services

    If you are selling a commodity-like product or service, your advertising should fall under this category. Seventy percent of products and services fall under this category and this is where a branding campaign is most effective. Rather than force a hard-to-distinguish USP into your communications, this is a great opportunity to use humor, distinct design, or distinct music, particularly with spot advertising or on-line videos. Creating an emotional response to your marketing message using one or more of these elements provides an opportunity to bypass the skepticism that people have toward advertising. Remember, you are starting at less than zero with your audience when you are selling something. Would you walk into a cocktail party by sticking out your business card and immediately attempting to sell your product or service? No. Worse yet, when communicating your message using a TV, radio, computer, or mobile device, you are invading the recipient’s personal space. Should you leap out of the box with a sales pitch? No. You must first engage them.

    If you can infuse humor or drama within your message and make it distinct, both in the visual and aural sense, it will disarm your prospect’s natural skepticism towards advertising and marketing. In addition, an emotional message creates a marker in the human mind that other marketing messages are not able to do. This is scientifically proven fact based on neuroscience studies in marketing.[1]

    The less unique your product or service, the more important the emotion and the execution. Telegraphing a message that says you have a USP when all you really have is another unexceptional commodity and without an emotional connection within the creative, will render your message impotent by insulting the audience’s intelligence. It is imperative to use superior design, humor, or drama to communicate emotionally and effectively. Additionally, if you are using traditional advertising to attract people to your website, the message must be simple to understand, yet distinct in its delivery. The goal is to drive your prospects to your website and social media pages where you can further engage them with great content.

    The self-effacing or analogous advertising campaigns have been one of the most effective creative strategies for marketers. By creating an over-the-top character within your marketing communications,[2] you are inviting the recipient in on the joke by disarming their natural contempt of old school “sell and tell” advertising. Neuroscience and behavioral studies have tested people using an MRI machine while they were watching a humorous or genuinely heartfelt TV ad or online video. There are visible changes within the subject’s brain waves resulting in the viewer being more apt to like or accept products or services.[1]

    From here, it is a question of exceptional digital content (a compelling story, writings, images, and videos) on your website and social media pages. The longer you can keep them engaged (quantified with pages viewed, time spent, and bounce rate), the better chance that your prospect becomes a customer, and your customer becomes an advocate for your brand. Examples of effective campaigns that you have seen are Direct TV using humor or Apple and Kohler Faucets using design and music.[3]

    Note that even the lowly direct response communication has been most successful when they began with a distinct, outlandish, almost self-effacing TV ad. Remember Vince Offer selling ShamWow? Who can forget Tony Little selling exercise equipment while yelling his catch phrase: “You can do it!”? Both characters set sales records for the direct response products they pitched.

    Truly Genuine and Authentic

    This approach works best for non-profits and for serious health related issues. They often use heartfelt testimonial videos to communicate their message. Examples of this category include hospitals, cancer treatment centers, and non-profits like Wounded Warriors and Shriner’s Hospitals. It should only be used for products or services if the execution is flawless. It should seek some USP in the company story (e.g., the Budweiser Clydesdales ads), but be careful here. Audiences are so skeptical, if there is a hint of inauthenticity, this approach will have the complete opposite effect, creating apathy or worse, contempt for your product or service.

    If you can combine two of the three approaches above, your message will be even more effective. Consider Geico. Their advertising has always been entertaining and self-deprecating. Their USP goes back to their first campaign: “15 minutes can save you 15% on your car insurance.” At the time (2001), using the Internet when shopping for car insurance was truly a unique selling proposition. As companies like Progressive Insurance and Farmers Insurance (with actor J.K. Simmons) chipped away at Geico’s USP, Geico has had to rely more on the entertainment quotient in their advertising and marketing.

    As we plan our marketing for 2016 and beyond, we should take into account the ever-increasing cost of traditional and digital paid advertising. Should we revaluate our marketing message? What sense is getting huge gross rating’s points and massive impressions if your message is not resonating with your audience? Jeb Bush spent over one hundred thirty million dollars in his failed presidential campaign. Donald Trump has spent about thirty million. Couldn’t you get an improved ROI on your marketing dollars if you focused more on the quality of your message and how it is delivered (using the right mix of traditional, digital, and PR)?

    We see business marketing executives brag about their low cost per point (CPP) or the large number of gross impressions they have, but then they deliver a marketing message that is benign, pedestrian, or that insults the audience’s intelligence with tired “selling and telling” marketing.

    Consider the monumental shift in how people perceive communications in 2016. Now review your communications and the message. Donald Trump’s and Bernie Sanders’ success in the poles are clearly examples of how voters consume media. Take a lesson from them for your company communications.

    [1] For more information, see Douglas Van Praet, Unconscious Branding: How Neuroscience Can Empower (and Inspire) Marketing (St. Martin’s Griffin, 2014).

    [2] Examples include Dos Equis’ “Most Interesting Man” and the Geico gecko.

    [3] See

    Cerami Creative is a full-service digital and traditional marketing company founded in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, in 1995. Cerami Creative has worked with national, regional, and local companies like Yuengling Beer, Penn Medicine, and Rita’s Water Ice. For a free evaluation of your company’s marketing strategy, contact Cerami Creative at or call 215-837-8194.