Marketing Beats Campaigning

reading time 6 min

(Originally posted on Facebook, Nov 9, 2016)

(this could probably use a few rounds of editing but I’d rather get it out now than wait until it is perfect.)

How I knew Trump would Win By Tom Limoncelli

I’ve been predicting that HRC would lose since 2008. I felt that she her negatives were too high to win. In 2008 she ran a sloppy campaign. I could see she learned a lot from that, and adopted a much more thoughtful strategy in 2016, which made me optimistic. I supported Bernie in the primaries and Hilary in the national… but I kept saying that I didn’t think she could win. I became optimistic in the last weeks because of FiveThirtyEight and other sites, but I still felt that she would lose because:

  1. HRC’s negatives were too high. Little else matters. The radical right had invested in damaging her reputation for 24 years. The constant mudslinging at her is pretty amazing… they figured out a way to make it profitable and therefore self-sustaining. See the documentary The Hunting of the President (available on Netflix and elsewhere… it is based on the book by the same title). What makes matters worse: For HRC to create a campaign organization, she had to hire people that had developed the ability to ignore all the mud and conspiracy theories people have made up about HRC (because the conspiracy theories aren’t true) BUT to win the election they had to pay attention to all the shit people say about HRC. It is impossible to find people that both have become immune to something and fight it. Another way to say that is: If you build a team of people who all have a “core skill” of being oblivious to a bunch of BS, they aren’t going to be the people that can create a strategy that defends against that bunch of BS. You need to be in a bubble for self-preservation, but you need to know that the bubble exists.

  2. Trump was playing a new game. DNC operatives are bad at fighting against new techniques. Trump was all about new campaign tactics. In fact, I would say this election was proof that “marketing beats campaigning”. Marketing tells people what they already know and like, and shows that the product meets a need that they want fulfilled. Campaigning explains why your policies are better. Before Trump entered the race, he had a staff person watch Fox News for months and catalog what topics were talked about the most. In the primary, he only talked about those topics. In other words, he talked about the things that Fox News had already invested millions of dollars and countless hours telling people “this is true”. So, Trump was telling people “this thing you know? I know it too and it’s true and that’s why you should vote for me.” Clinton was telling people “Here’s my policies… don’t you think they’d work well for you?”

  3. HRC ignores Right Wing Radio. Right Wing Radio has spent 3 decades creating their own mythology about how the world works. It’s a false mythology, but once you start listening to it, you eventually buy into it. This mythology is all conspiracy theories and right-wing lies, but it if you listen enough it tells a complete story that explains everything… even if the reasons are “because I said so” or “because…. black people!” As a result, during the debates HRC said things that were 100% true and Trump said things that were the vocabulary and mythology from right-wing radio. Liberals walked away saying, “HRC had great answers!” but everyone else walked away saying, “Trump was speaking my language!” She didn’t win the debates… she said the things that the pundit class would understand but the rest of the country heart Trump.

People keep saying, “I like Trump because he says the things that other politicians don’t say.” Of course! Politicians are too smart to repeat crazy conspiracy theories in public, even if they believe those things. When Trump said those crazy things, they weren’t new ideas to people. Those people were responding, “Wow! Finally someone that says the truth that RWR has been telling me! I like him!” In fact, when Trump says those things it makes Republican politicians look like liars. That’s very powerful.

When I say “marketing beats campaigning” I also mean this: When I asked Trump supporters why they support Trump, they’d say things like “HRC is so negative. She just complains. Trump has actual solutions.” If you look at what HRC was saying, it was policies that would (for example) bring back manufacturing jobs to the U.S. However you have to understand the policy and draw that conclusion. Trumpw as just saying, “We’re going to bring back manufacturing!” and if someone asked “how?” he said, “BY BRINGING BACK MANUFACTURING.” Yes, that’s an empty promise with no policy to back it, but compared to what HRC was saying, she sounded negative and Trump had a solution: Bring back manufacturing! (Oh, if only it was that easy.)

Those are the reasons I’ve been spouting for a while. In the last 4-5 months I realized some new things:

(a) Trump is addressing a lot of new voters, and pollsters don’t poll those people. The number of Americans that vote is so tiny, than if you can get a few percent of non-voters to start voting (i.e. give them a reason), then that will be enough people to change an election. How do you get non-voters to start voting? You give them something exciting to vote for… a TV personality. Obama did this but addressed a different crowd.

(b) New battleground states: Pollsters weren’t experienced at polling those new states, so their info was invalid.

(c) FiveThirtyEight is a sum of other polls. Polls are only part of the picture. It misses new voters, people that lie to pollsters, and it misses things like the fact that there was a 50-to-1 ratio of Trump signs along the highway. That means something.

(d) The Koch brothers were silent. The pundits thought this meant they were staying out of this one. What it really mean is that they adopted a strategy of staying out of the spotlight. They were probably just as active in influencing things.

I felt like I’ve been saying these things, for years, but obviously I’m not someone that the campaigns listen to. I hate that I was right about Trump. I hate that “marketing beat campaigning”. I hate that the 49.9% of the U.S. that believes Fox News’s lie that “Obama has achieved nothing” have elected someone that is going to un-do all the advancements he has made.

What should we do in the future? We should pay more attention to the conspiracy theories spouting from right wing radio. We should also find ways to defund and disrupt it. Stop talking about the “media filters”. Right-wing radio isn’t a filter… it is a bull-horn. What’s brilliant about it is that it is self-funding. The advertisements make it self-sustaining. We need to find out own bull-horn that is as effective and self-funding. Without doing that, the right-wing will always rule U.S. politics.


P.S. Disclaimer: I realized a lot of this during Trump’s primary run. Early in the primaries I had written that I thought Trump would pull out after a month or two because he was doing it as a PR stunt. However, once I saw what he was winning, I realized a lot of the things I’ve written about here. I was surprised that HRC and other pundits didn’t see it too.

Tom Limoncelli

Tom Limoncelli

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