OCTOBER 21, 2015
Whether or not he becomes president, Donald Trump’s most significant achievement may well be the development of a new role model – and it’s an ominous one. He’s showing how a future Gandhi or Hitler (or more likely some new type of personality) can emerge on a global stage and capture dramatic political power. I started imaging this scenario a few years ago, thinking it was a plot for a novel. Now, the Trump phenomenon has me thinking that it’s a roadmap for a new reality.
I’ve been in the business of creating and executing communications strategies for more than four decades. Over that time, I’ve seen up close and personal how really talented people can create a brand, make it come to life, and build a massive and loyal following. I’ve seen how that can be done for products and services and individuals. I’ve seen how the expertise to achieve such results has been growing and growing. And, I’ve seen how the Communications Revolution has increased the potential of such campaigns by an order of magnitude.
Take a journey into this scenario with me.
Imagine that we are part of a great communications agency. We do publicity, advertising, grassroots campaigns, lobbying, special events, research, online communications and more – all the components of an integrated campaign. And, we’re really great at it. We’re a talented group of people who work collaboratively with great passion. And we get the results we seek.
It’s that capability and reputation that brings a new client to our offices today. The client is not well known but has money, a well-defined goal and some cultish supporters. The client has no specific skills or experience in the political arena.
“I want to become the most powerful person in the world,” the client says as we begin our meeting. “In fact,” we’re told, “I want to become the most powerful person in the history of the world. Do for me what you have done for products and services. Make me into a global brand with global support that I can leverage to assume political power unrestrained by geographical borders.” Far-fetched? Well, the leading candidate for the Republican party’s nominee for president has noted that although the value of his brand doesn’t show up on a financial balance sheet, it is his most important asset. He’s right. It is the fruit of his long career of being a master brand-creator. “Trump” is not simply a person; “Trump” is a brand. And as we can see from his political campaign, that brand doesn’t rely very much on political philosophy or policy expertise or experience. Rather, that brand stands for brashness, the image for getting things done, and the ability to reduce complicated situations to issues that people can relate to on an intuitive basis, whether it’s gold faucets to impress you or a big beautiful wall to keep illegal immigrants out of the U.S. Donald Trump the person isn’t winning the campaign; “Trump” the brand in the persona of Trump the human is winning the campaign.
Our new client has seen that truth and wants to replicate it on a grander scale. We’re told that budget isn’t an issue; that we should simply develop the campaign to attain the goal.
The client leaves and we pull together an agency team to conceive the effort. Our research people will poll people throughout the world to see what common issues may resonate with populations regardless of where they are and their circumstances. Those issues would be basic: food and shelter and how people get meaning out of life (probably by their work and families and religions). We’ll develop some core principals for the campaign, including what broad feelings we need to create to convert our targeted population’s normal apathy into action. That means we’ll focus on creating sympathy, guilt and outrage – basic instincts that will resonate worldwide. We’ll slice and dice our audience to know their specific likes and dislikes and then we will exploit existing online and real social networks and build new ones to cater to those interests. We will build our own “news media” for each of those communities and then we will use those channels to pump core messages to them on an ongoing basis so that we can create the “truth” for our audience, without being constrained by actual “facts.”
We’ll develop a great ad campaign that would use any and all distribution channels to get our messages to our targets: TV, print, online, billboards, whatever. We’ll recruit the right spokespeople (actors, athletes, past war heroes, whatever) to articulate our key messages. They will have the right “look” and credibility that will resonate with our audience. And we’ll teach them to know what to say and how to say it and what not to say and how to avoid issues that need to be avoided.
We’ll conduct events on a local scale as in rallies in a town square, and audacious events such as “Hands Across America.” We’ll maintain ongoing research and polling and focus groups so we can see how we are moving the needle. As we go, real time, we will pump-up what’s working and improve or remove and replace what isn’t. That may mean that we will have to deny saying things we did say and rewrite our own history in some cases. So be it.
In short: We’ll create a brand for our client and we’ll turn our client into that brand. And that brand will coalesce, build loyalty with, and mobilize our supporters when and as needed. Our client will build global power and won’t need an army because the thoughts and concepts promoted to win the loyalty of our supporters will ultimately prove more significant than body counts and territory held.
And after this campaign is launched – what then? Our client (or some future more perfected iteration) will become the most powerful force in the world – in the history of the world. How will the power be used? The evolution of the model hasn’t progressed enough yet for us to make a reasoned guess. It could be extremely good or bad. For sure, the world will be different. Most likely, Donald Trump will never get that far. But some future version will. And that’s when we will find out what all this may mean to the way the world is structured and managed.