Marketing of Politics: Why Clinton and Trump Are Winning and Why One Will Eventually Lose

Cans of Pepsi and Coke are shown in a news stand refrigerator display rack in New York Friday, April 22, 2005. (AP Photo/Mark
Cans of Pepsi and Coke are shown in a news stand refrigerator display rack in New York Friday, April 22, 2005. (AP Photo/Mark Lennihan)

They say all politics is local. It's not quite that simple. Successful politics is about astute marketing.

Both Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump are cleaning up in the primaries and for good reason. Each is out-marketing their opponents.

Great marketing starts with a strong message that appeals to more consumers than does your opponent's message. By that measure, Bernie Sanders was woefully out-marketed. As of this writing before the Indiana primary, Clinton has 2165 delegates (includes 520 superdelegates) to Bernie Sanders 1,357 delegates (includes only 39 superdelegates).

Clinton knows her base, many of whom want the status quo, policy-wise. They want her to continue to fight for equality for women and minorities domestically, but not to veer too far off course internationally. Basically, it means sticking to what President Obama started. This appeals to a great majority of the Democratic base.

Sanders' marketing pitch is far weaker. His message about free college education and broader anti-business, socialist sentiment tends to appeal to a narrower target audience. That accounts for the abundance of 18 to 21-year-old consumers who surround him at rallies (Yes, I know I'm using the term consumers instead of constituents, and that's the point). While he tries to paint Clinton as being in the pocket of big business, that message is virtually meaningless to the Democratic base. That's an attack that works against Republicans who often side with business interests, not Democrats. Thus, he is targeting too narrow an audience for starters, and he uses an attack message that simply doesn't ring true.

Bernie Sanders never had a chance, marketing-wise. Estimates vary, but one source claims he spent $60 million on television advertising compared to Clinton's $53 million. It's not the money, Bernie, it's the size of your audience and the power of your message. Just ask Procter & Gamble.

Donald Trump has out-marketed his Republican challengers at every turn. As of this writing before the Indiana primary, he has 996 delegates to Ted Cruz's 565 delegates and John Kasich's 153.

First, Trump had stronger brand name recognition. Whoever heard of Cruz and Kasich before the primaries? No one, unless you lived in their states. It's not impossible to gain recognition fast, like that achieved at the 2004 Democratic National Convention by then Senator Barack Obama who nailed the keynote address. But neither Cruz nor Kasich had an Obama moment. And while other contenders had name recognition, such as Jeb Bush, a lot of consumers have grown tired of "establishment" politicians, fueled in great part by the way Trump "negatively positions" sitting statesmen. Outsiders = good. Insiders = Bad. That is masterful re-positioning.

But it's Trump's bigger messaging that dominates. His populous message of "Make America Great Again" speaks to a large swath of Americans who believe that America has fallen both domestically and internationally. That message is simple and easy to comprehend, and fits nicely on the bumper sticker of the mind. Nike says "Just Do It". Apple says "Think Different". McDonald's says "I'm Lovin' It". L'Oréal says "Because You're Worth It". Obama promised "Hope and Change". And Trump wants to "Make America Great Again".

I often laugh at pundits who dispel Trump as being short on specifics. News flash; many consumers care less about exactly how their needs are satisfied; many just care that they are satisfied. To them, Trump's tenacity is proof enough that he will somehow get it done. That's why the policy wonk candidates fell short; they were long on specifics that consumers did not care about and short on a powerful, universal message that they craved.

One report claims that Jeb Bush spent $77 million on television advertisements. Trump spent about $17 million. How did he pull that off? His message is so simple and controversial, that the news media carried it for him for free! That's a marketer's dream. When talking heads on television shows would chide Trump for disparaging Hispanics, his growing supporters instead heard "I'll fix the immigration problem and you'll have more jobs for yourself."

So now, it is all but inevitable that Clinton and Trump will battle for the most powerful job in the world. This is a marketing battle of two brands, no more or less than Coke vs. Pepsi. I don't mean to trivialize the importance of the issues involved by calling attention to the marketing aspects of the battle, but the marketing campaigns will determine whose vision of America will reign.

Importantly, each of our final candidates has a marketing strength and weakness that will ultimately determine the outcome of the battle.

Trump has the BIG, universally appealing message to Make America Great Again. It has universal appeal because consumers read into it what they want. Make America Great means a job for the jobless and respect abroad for those who want greater respect. That gives Trump an advantage, message-wise. Clinton has not created a consistent, universal message on which to rely. Her anti-Trump rhetoric is not persuasive enough because it does not rely on a big message that solves a universal problem. Instead, she has smaller segmented messages. Her website is currently peppered with the phrase "woman card". How does that message benefit an African America father of two who lost his job? It doesn't.

Trump also promises change, which reflects what many Americans want, and that message tends to "re-position" Clinton as wanting the status quo. That's dangerous for Clinton, because wanting to stay the course is not often a good message when most people feel that they have lost ground. But she can't really challenge the current state of affairs too much because those reflect years when she and Obama were in power. If there's a problem with America, why didn't they fix it already? Trump gets to paint her as part of the problem.

Trump has the big message, but his weakness is in marketing segmentation. His rhetoric and some policies weaken him among Hispanics, Blacks, women, and the LGBT community. All marketers know that a grand message isn't good enough by itself; you also need to make meaningful policies for each segment that fulfill on the promise of the grand message. While Clinton has yet to create an over-arching message as powerful as Make America Great Again, she is masterful at creating messages that appeal to these segments, while at the same time "re-positioning" Trump as not good for these segments.

And name-calling is done for a reason. It works. When Trump calls Clinton "Crooked Hillary" and Trump gets painted as dangerous and a racist, they are added bumper stickers for the mind.

That's the marketing battle. Trump has the big universal message, but Clinton has the demographic segments. Trump needs to explain to those segments how America being great will directly benefit them. Clinton needs to create a message as universally appealing as Make America Great Again, one that does not rest on the status quo nor on simply being anti-Trump.

Trump and Clinton. Coke and Pepsi. This battle is about the marketing of politics, and We The People will not only determine the outcome, We The People must live with the results.