One Word Brands. The Key to Donald Trump’s Success. Of the estimated $2 billion dollars in free media Donald Trump has received during the 2016 presidential campaign, lots of it has been dedicated to explaining his surprisingly successful rise as the GOP’s presumptive presidential nominee.
Some pundits acknowledge Trump’s mastery of today’s most influential media. As the argument goes, FDR mastered radio, JFK mastered TV, Obama mastered the Internet, and Trump is demonstrating his timely mastery of social media and reality television.
Some analysts talk about Trump’s appeal to an angry, mostly male, mostly middle class white voter who feels betrayed by both the current administration and the traditional Republican power structure. But even beyond that group, a majority of voters in both parties believe the country has been ineffectual in its response to the danger of terrorism and may be open to Trump’s message.
Finally, some authorities attribute Trump’s success to a unique time in American history where temperament and experience have been undermined by the desire for a show of strength unburdened by the complexity of facts or habit.
Regardless of what you think of Donald Trump the candidate, all of these points make logical sense. But I think there’s one more simple fact that doesn’t get any press – Trump’s mastery of one word brands.
One of the most important rules of political marketing is to always define yourself before others define you. After all, in the same way that nature abhors a vacuum, politics do too. Candidate Barack Obama demonstrated this when he successfully defined himself with two simple words – “hope” and “change.” But shortly after being elected, the visionary became a functionary and Obama failed to clearly define his plan for health care. And as we’ve since learned, while Obamacare is the law of the land, its passing required significant compromise and the program is still being attacked and argued by a party that defined the platform with catchy phrases including “Pulling the plug on grandma,” and “Death panels.”
Understanding that, it’s easy to look back and see how Donald Trump ID’d each of his Republican candidates with compellingly negative one word brands. Despite the exclamation point in his logo, Jeb Bush was tagged “Low energy Jeb.” Diminutive Marco Rubio was nicknamed with the patronizing moniker “Little Marco.” Ted Cruz became “Lyin’ Ted.” And regardless of whether you want to admit it or not, you knew each one of these labels long before I listed them.
Winning the presumptive nominee slot hasn’t changed Trump’s strategy one bit. Instead he’s been working hard to establish his one word brand name for his most-likely rival – the woman he calls “Crooked Hillary.”
But don’t rush to give Trump credit for coming up with this approach of one word brands, this tactic has been used many times before. Throughout history most American presidents have had one or two word brand descriptors: Dwight Eisenhower – war hero. John Kennedy – Camelot. Lyndon Johnson – Southern Democrat. Richard Nixon – Tricky Dicky. Gerald Ford – Klutz. Jimmy Carter – Peanut Farmer. Ronald Reagan – Cowboy. And so on.
Whether or not the one word brands were accurate portrayals didn’t seem to matter, by the way. “Klutzy” Gerald Ford was actually an accomplished athlete who was voted most valuable player by his University of Michigan football team. Ford lettered three years in a row and played in the college all-star game. He even turned down offers to play in the NFL for both the Detroit Lions and the Green Bay Packers. But SNL comedian Chevy Chase consistently depicted Ford tripping over himself and the nickname stuck. Similarly, Al Gore never actually said he invented the Internet just like Sarah Palin never said she could “see Russia from my house.”
Keep your eye on the election proceedings to see how Trump uses his time-proven technique to attack his Democratic opponent. And also watch to see if the Clinton campaign not only defines their candidate’s brand before Trump’s name can stick but also uses the same tactic against Trump himself. After all, what’s good for the gander should be good for the goose, too.
And maybe you should take another second or two and figure out what your one word brand is before someone else slaps you with a definition that you’re not so happy with.