The Trump Brand and the General Election: A Line Extension or a New Product Category?

The Trump Brand and the General Election: A Line Extension or a New Product Category?

Like most of us, Gregg Sibert and Jeff Ewen have been closely following (and occasionally enjoying) the unfolding spectacle of the 2016 Presidential campaign. Cynical as it sounds, marketing a candidate or platform has much in common with marketing anything. At the core of effort is a brand that needs to be defined, positioned and promoted.

From time to time between now and November, we’ll be looking at both campaigns through this filter. Below is our first installment. Enjoy!

GOP Presidential nominee Donald Trump likes to talk about the value of his brand. In fact, the Trump “brand” has become regular fodder for the political pundits, with commentaries ranging from how his campaign has so effectively differentiated Trump from other political brands, to whether the choice of Mike Pence as his running mate was “off brand.”

Looking at politics through a branding lens isn’t new, of course. But this presidential campaign is taking the concept to places it has never been before. And while we have some doubts as to whether this is healthy for our body politic in the long run, the commentators in us just want to say “Thank you, God.”

With the transition from the nomination fight into general election mode, the Trump campaign is moving into a new and very different market — the broader general electorate. Will the Trump brand promise resonate as well there as it has in the narrower and more homogenous market of the Republican base?

At first blush, this sounds like a problem of defining and understanding market segments — the Republican primary electorate vs. the broader general electorate. But it may be more helpful to analyze this in terms of product categories. While both market segments are looking for something they call a President, in reality they may be seeking two very different products.

We’re not smart enough to know which is correct, nor do we have the experience or the data. But the answer to that question will make a big difference in determining what the Trump campaign has to do next. If the primary and general electorates are looking for similar underlying qualities and attributes in a President (even though they may express them differently), then we have a line extension. Modify a few policies, change some of the packaging to emphasize different benefits, and you have a Trump brand capable of capturing the market share needed to take the oath of office in January.

But if these two electorates really are looking for different products, then the Trump campaign has work to do. They’re entering a new category, and they’ll need to introduce a new product under an already established Trump brand. While that brand will bring instant awareness and multiple qualitative associations to the new product, it will also bring some negative baggage. Whether the positive associations outweigh the negative remains to be seen.

A cautionary tale from the world of branding: while there are many cases of successful brand extensions, the majority of them fail. Sure, we know the Trump brand has been extended successfully to a range of products beyond its original category (real estate). But most people take their politics far more seriously than their ties.

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