Trump and Sanders: A tale of two political brands
It seems like we’ve been talking about the upcoming American presidential election forever, and it’s still over a year away. I must say, people are engaged—hopefully for at least some of the right reasons and not just entertainment value. The recent Republican debates on Fox and CNN broke ratings records for both networks—and social media, YouTube and late night talk shows have been saturated with clips ever since.
As I write this, Donald Trump is the Republican frontrunner; and Senator Bernie Sanders of Vermont has gained serious ground in the Democratic polls. I find this interesting, since everyone I talk to—even the politically savvy—think that neither of these guys has any hope at the nomination. Yet, both candidates are getting oodles of media coverage and filling stadiums.
Some of this is driven by the fact that people with more extreme views tend to be drawn to the election process at this earlier stage—but there’s something deeper at play here, too.
Donald and Bernie are pretty far apart on many political issues, but they do share some interesting traits, including not having presidential hair. Both have heavy New York accents, and speak bluntly with little intonation or finesse. Not exactly your packaged president types… but maybe that’s exactly what’s working about them for the moment.
Both men, no matter what you think of them, are brutally honest about themselves and their views. They are not afraid to voice exactly what they really think or feel. Polls be damned.
Trump has made fun of people’s appearance; Sanders openly calls himself a socialist—both no-nos in American culture and politics. And still, their momentum is on a roll right now. Why? Doesn’t this go against every principle or formula that every election consultant has been honing for decades?!?
I have a theory—with absolutely no scientific backing or proof—just based solely on my own social observation. To me, you can look to the current state of social media, branding and marketing for the answer.
In our culture right now, authenticity is in demand—anything that smells of salesmanship, spin, phoniness, or focus group pandering is not only flat-out rejected or ignored—it’s often punished, harshly, by the masses using miniature soapboxes on Facebook, SnapChat, Twitter, YouTube and others.
There seems to be a thirst for truth. Although we live in an age with an overwhelming profusion of information, getting an honest or accurate account of something can often be a challenge.
For example, I’ve been on Facebook and seen one friend post statistics on how terrible the American economy is and that we’re all doomed. Then, a few scrolls later, another friend posts how this is the BEST economy since the 1980s. Both friends have charts, data, and economists making very compelling cases. Who’s right? It’s confusing as hell.
Getting a straight answer—even one you don’t like—is oddly refreshing. That’s why some brands, on the cutting edge, are taking a “total honesty” approach. I received an email from a brand I follow (which shall remain nameless) that said, “We would have contacted you sooner, but we’ve been lazy and just put it off.”
My theory is that Sanders and Trump appeal to people because, whether you like them or not, they come across as authentic.
Their “This is me, take it or leave it,” personalities are, I think, welcome to a lot of people who are tired of the same old political branding they’ve been seeing.
Granted, every presidential race has an outlier that gets a lot of attention at first, then burns out. But this feels a little different. I’m not sure how far Donald and Bernie will advance toward the White House, but they bring up a compelling question.
We’ve seen marketing, publishing, healthcare, the financial industry, and countless other sectors go through rapid and profound change in recent years. Has that time come for political campaigns, too?
– Andy Badalamenti is the creative director for CI-Group