A Marketing Campaign to Trump Them All

Trump_hair_twisted_based on NYDailyNews

No news is good news. So naturally there’s a lot of news about Donald Trump.

That’s hardly noteworthy — this hurricane of chutzpah has been scoring headlines for decades. What’s remarkable now is how strongly his campaign for the Presidency is resonating with the public, and what that says about the power of marketing.

His quest seemed, at least initially, to be merely a self-promotion scheme, more about refreshing his own brand, making it, rather than the country, “great again.” And this dealmaker extraordinaire has, shrewdly, done it on the cheap. Why bother with a super PAC when you’ve got eager media companies footing the bill?

Trump is a past master at this game. “One thing I’ve learned about the press is that they’re always hungry for a good story, and the more sensational the better,” Trump said in “The Art of the Deal,” the ghostwritten bestseller that first brought him to national attention. “The point is that if you are a little different, or a little outrageous, or if you do things that are bold or controversial, the press is going to write about you.”

Trump takes pride in manipulating more than just the media. “I play to people’s fantasies,” his book states. “People may not always think big themselves, but they can still get very excited by those who do… People want to believe that something is the biggest and the greatest and the most spectacular.”

Spewing insults and making wild, unsupported assertions may demand immediate attention, but did Trump really start his campaign thinking he could govern this way, should he make it to the end? Perhaps he thinks he can simply disavow his incendiary statements later and repackage himself. Certainly social media has eroded the absolute power of corporate media and has allowed any of us to market our own truth. But it seems almost delusional to think that life operates like an advertising campaign where reality is whatever you say it is. After all, the democratization of media works both ways — it’s both freeing and confining; we can’t escape our past deeds and words.

In the meantime, Trump has been able to market himself as toughness personified, the avatar of politically incorrect truths: No-More-Mr.-Nice-Guy Goes to Washington. His followers don’t demand details about how exactly he would deliver on his promises.

If it’s surprising how well this has played, it shouldn’t be. Trumpism is a force because our political marketplace has been warped by years of extreme legislative obstructionism and cynical encouragement of conspiratorial irrationality (“birtherism” or science denial, anyone?) that have left much of the electorate bitter, marginalized, and looking for a strongman fixer who pretends to be as an angry as they are. The mistrusted insiders — the establishment of corporatists, legislators, pundits, moralizers, and donors — can’t control the populist fury they helped stoke. And opportunists, smelling a good deal for themselves, will seek to reap the benefit.

9/11: An Emergency Wake-Up Call

What good is an anniversary if we don’t reflect on what the experience memorializes and signifies?

A historical turning point, 9/11 exists in both past and present. It was a singular event and is a still-unfolding one. We don’t know all its consequences or how they’ll play out, but some lessons are apparent — most urgently the need for compassion and understanding in a world sputtering on ignorance, fear, greed, hatred, and pride. The second is the need for vigilance in protection of all that is worthy and good — which includes not just life and property but the values that give existence meaning beyond mere survival.
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Communications Technology: This Changes Nothing

Hyper communication is not necessarily effective communication. Sure, we increasingly have access to almost any person or piece of information at any time. But too often we just talk or Tweet past each other, sticking to scripts without really listening. If nothing else, the modern age is a boon for irony.

The ongoing strife in Washington brings this to mind, naturally. But this is an everyday problem, for just about all the frustrations you and I are likely to have are related to communications, and technology has done little to free us from the drudgery of ourselves.
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Forget Elephants and Donkeys, Beware the Pigheaded

Nobel Prize-winning physicist Max Planck devoted his life to observable phenomena and logic, but he had a dim view of their power to change minds. “A new scientific truth does not triumph by convincing its opponents and making them see the light,” he said, “but rather because its opponents eventually die, and a new generation grows up that is familiar with it.”
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The Unfortunates

There was a great photo in yesterday’s New York Times of Fabrice P. Tourre, the Goldman Sachs bond trader who helped devise the mortgage instruments his bank sold to investors – and then shorted, thus piling up enormous profits as the country plunged into financial chaos and massive loss.

Monsieur Tourre, who hails from France and likes to call himself “Fabulous Fab,” is looking over his shoulder at a non-too-sympathetic mob of Bastille-stormers while seated before a U.S. Senate subcommittee investigating the role of investment banks in the financial crisis, with a particular focus on Goldman’s mortgage machinations. The S.E.C. also accuses the firm and Tourre himself of fraud for selling an investment package created with an outside hedge fund, which then made billions by betting against the success of the booby-trapped vehicle.

It won’t help Goldman’s case — whether legal or in the court of public opinion — that private memos between its executives describe at least some the deals they were selling to unwitting investors as “shitty.”

When Sen. Carl Levin (D-MI) asked about the email’s fragrant (and, as it turned out, accurate) choice of words, Goldman CFO David Viniar said, “I think that’s very unfortunate to have on email.”

Unfortunate? … Snickers rose from the crowd who thought perhaps they were witnessing a historic “let them eat merde” moment of tone-deaf response. But aside from word choice, do the various Goldman executives who testified for 11 hours feel any remorse, or even responsibility for the financial meltdown or exacerbating its effects? No, not at all. “I don’t have any regrets about doing things that I think were improper,” said former Goldman mortgage chief Dan Sparks, who did allow that his bank had “made some poor decisions in hindsight.”

Sen, John McCain (R-AZ) said that he did not know if the world’s largest and most profitable investment bank did anything illegal but there was “no doubt” the firm behaved unethically. It remains to be seen if that judgment hurts the bank, which ironically tells its employees they should do nothing that would embarrass the firm if printed on the front page of a business newspaper.

However you feel about the matter at hand, at least one objective lesson is clear from a communications standpoint – be very careful what you say in emails. They live on past your delete button — and the really juicy ones, the ones that make you look foolish or dishonest, are bound to make it into business publications. … Maybe even Senate hearings.