Ryanair marketing boss gives verdict on winning Trump campaign

As Hillary Clinton discovered, a massive media spend is no guarantee of victory

I have always been a huge fan of American presidential campaigns, and this one was the most fascinating and extreme in memory. Having followed the campaign for the past year, I was lucky enough to be in the US for the final days of the campaign – and the immediate aftermath.

The resounding victory for Donald Trump (forget the popular vote nonsense) ultimately came about because he represented change. Hillary Clinton lost because she represented continuity, and Americans didn't want more of the same.

Trump may not quite be the successful, modern-day business mogul he likes to portray himself as, but he does know marketing. Yes, he was helped by having an opponent who failed to inspire traditional Democrat voters and who was tarnished by the scandal around deleted emails, while the Clinton Foundation’s use of funds also cast shadows on the former secretary of state.

Still, Trump's very obvious, often lowbrow but straightforward marketing and communication strategy played a big role in his election to the White House. Here's how and why:


1. Trump the product is clearly differentiated
Hillary Clinton made a mistake when she positioned herself as offering Americans another four years of Obama, especially from a candidate that America never loved. It was not what the country sought. Trump is an outsider to the Washington establishment, is clearly different, and is, in many ways, extreme.

He is mint chocolate ice cream with cherries on top (loved or loathed) to Clinton’s vanilla (satisfying but never special). What does that say about the US that a billionaire has more in touch with common Americans?

2. Trump's campaign slogan won
These slogans are normally banal phrases, but "Make America Great Again" was launched before everyone else's and it stuck in the mind, all the while constantly reinforced by Trump and his team. Clinton's "Stronger Together" is much less memorable (incidentally, the Welsh football team used the same slogan during Euro 2016) and implies a weakness, while Trump's conveys strength, action and heritage.

His slogan, borrowed straight from the Ronald Reagan playbook, sounded like a lyric from a Springsteen hit. Clinton's was more akin to a line from a bad Eurovision entry.

3. Trump tapped into how Americas were feeling
Despite being perched on his golden throne in Trump Tower, he was more in touch with the zeitgeist of the nation. This was arguably down to him and not his advisers, who no doubt urged him to be more conventional. But he always went with his heart – and mouth. Clinton had a big team of Washington's finest advising her, using data and polls to shape policy. But by purely crunching numbers, they missed out on the human angle, and how people all over America, and not just those in the rust belt, were feeling.

4. Trump won the fame game
He was famous before the campaign and created more controversial headlines than any other presidential candidate in history. He followed the old-style PR mantra that there's "no such thing as bad press" and the media, the electorate and world couldn't stop talking about him. In the end, the people didn't care either: maybe he said out loud what everyone was really thinking.

5. Trump ignored the research (polls)
Much like in the Brexit referendum and the Irish election, the value of market research and polls were once again been badly exposed in the US presidential election. How people say they will vote and how they actually vote are clearly different. That's especially true when such a divisive candidate is on the ticket. Trump never gave up campaigning in those key states, even though the polls said he should. Again, the Trump gut proved more reliable than the Clinton stats.

6. Trump won with earned media instead of paid media
For every $10 Clinton spent on advertising, Trump spent $1. But earned media coverage proved to be more effective, even if it wasn't always positive. Clinton's TV ads in the final few weeks featured in almost every commercial break and the always talked about Trump being a bad choice, rather than Clinton being a good one. The mistake is obvious: don't talk about your opposition.

The America media, electorate and even his opponent couldn’t stop talking about Trump. The experts questioned the mass rallies and his lack of a traditional campaign on the ground, but they were wrong. He did three or four rallies a day in the towns and counties that mattered, where more of his core voters got to see him in person and felt they were part of his movement.

So what can future candidates and even businesses learn from Trump’s success? Well, for one thing, no amount of data crunching, liberal media support or media spend is going to make an average, undifferentiated product good enough to win.

Consumers and voters are time-poor and media-saturated. People want to believe in a candidate that stands for something. Having too broad an appeal and promising continuity made Hillary Clinton “vanilla”.

Following conventional marketing wisdom used to be good enough, but not anymore. Donald Trump has torn up the rule books along with the history books.

Kenny Jacobs is chief marketing officer for Ryanair.