It was at a 2016 Hillary rally when my daughter caught sight of the first sign claiming “Love Trumps Hate.” She immediately turned to me and said, “That’s not a good sign.”
“Why?” I asked.
“You always told me,” she said, “that you shouldn’t give your competitor free publicity.” She had a point.
This child had grown up around marketing. I was a director of marketing for most of her childhood, and she heard me rail many times against commercials and slogans, usually as an effort to defray her desire for American Girl Dolls, the latest Cabbage Patch kid, or Tamagotchi, the digital pet that you had to keep alive. I lost with the Tamagotchi, Pokemon cards and Ninja Turtles, but did prevail more times than not to convince both children that the word ‘brand’ was not synonymous with ‘requirement.’
“Love Trumps Hate” wasn’t a good slogan. It was a sign of Hillary’s marketing team being clever instead of effective. It was not the first signal, but a strong one, that the now Labeller-in-Chief was better at marketing than the then so-called front runner. No surprise, since as a real estate developer, he was a largely a brand marketer for most of his life.
Trump believes in branding and made his name into a brand long before he ran for the highest office. He puts his name on everything from buildings to casinos, steaks, and wine, many of which are not successful. But, by touting the brand, people believe the quality might be higher than it usually is, just as his NY building isn’t as high as he leads people to believe. Competitors didn’t need to give him more air time, something the Hillary team and certainly the media should have known. Most brands pay heftily for their ads, $5 million and above in 2017 for a Superbowl spot. Trump was brilliant in gaining free air time from playing the media.
Hillary’s team was far from brilliant for not positioning her as the leader and instead as the competitor. In the slogan, “Love Trumps Hate,” the H team not only gave Trump brand exposure, but positioned their candidate as the alternative – implying Trump was the leader to beat. Hence, she became the also ran, not the president-elect. It’s not the only reason the election turned out the way it did, but it’s one of the marketing reasons for the outcome.
The classic marketing book Positioning written over 45 years ago by Al Ries and Jack Trout devotes an entire chapter on how to maintain a leadership position. Coke, as the leader in the beverage category, never mentions Pepsi in any ads. It only advertises itself. Pepsi, in the number two position must gain a foothold and always sells itself as the alternative for the cool kids, or Pepsi generation.
So now we’re in the post-election season. Instead of rehashing bad slogans that give the leader increased air time, it’s time to lick wounds, learn lessons, and become effective in a marketing game not well played to date. For the #Resistance, it’s time to drop the slogan “Love Trumps Hate” for all of the same reasons Hillary should have dropped it in 2016. Had she done that, this Valentines Day more citizens might be in love, or at least better like, with their President than the historic 40% low that, as of this writing, the current president is not enjoying.
For a small valentine’s action step, drop the soft love language for newer, more hard hitting slogans. If you’re going to a protest, think about what you write on a placard. There were some amazing and empowering messages in the January 21 marches, all pithier and pointed.
The new goal post is to recapture momentum, play offense not defense, and understand the current rules of the game to harness passion. Love isn’t the message. Liberty and Justice for All may be. It worked in 1776. Maybe it’s time to try it again.