Trumped by a foul and effective earned media strategy

You’re going to read lots of highfalutin talk about how Trump’s victory is a howl from the dispossessed, and so on.

While it’s true that he benefited from a surge from rural voters, if Trump represents some sort of ventriloquist for the socially excluded, then explain this:


Let’s slam the breaks for moment and ask a much more ‘boring’ question about marketing. Given that he’s a professional brand marketer, we may want to start with what he does for a living.

Why was Trump on the television every morning for the past 2 years, despite around 20 people running for President all scraping for airtime?

Trump would start almost every day with a sensational claim, threat, accusation or insult. It often took no more than a single tweet, or a phone call to a TV show, to set the media reaction in motion. (Which says more about how the media works than Trump’s ideas about America, especially since his tweets were almost never about ideas and always about other people.)

As ever more norms and boundaries were transgressed by Trump, the media would react. Every. single. day. Some commentators would pontificate and protest, others would agree, but all would react. Every. single. day.

This was an earned media strategy par excellence.

It was almost as if the guy was a reality TV star that new how to generate publicity…

Trump didn’t win a battle of ideas. He won a battle for traditional media exposure.

So much for the collapse of civilized discourse following the rise of social media. Trump’s campaign was built on a mastering of the TV ratings model.

For many of us, we’d rather spend more time discussing ideas and issues online, than listening to an echo chamber constructed to suit the loudest voice in the room.

Unfortunately, the traditional media model still has enough power to carry a brand to the Presidency.




  • Belfast Barman(ager)

    There was a while when Saddan Hussein was in the news every day. Harold Shipman too. Getting coverage does not a messiah make.

  • Nevin
  • mjh

    Thanks for posting that link, Nevin.

    Interesting dissection of each candidate’s actual voters by gender, race, age, education, income, religion, etc, plus those voters’ views on the main issues and on each candidate’s honesty, competence, fitness for office, etc

    And at the end of all that it’s still, in the words of the mantra of the first Bill Clinton campaign, “the economy stupid”

    Who would better handle the economy?
    Clinton 46%
    Trump 49%

  • Nevin

    Thomas Frank summed it up in these words back in March:

    Support for Donald Trump, the group found, ran strong among these people, even among self-identified Democrats, but not because they are all pining for a racist in the White House. Their favorite aspect of Trump was his “attitude”, the blunt and forthright way he talks. As far as issues are concerned, “immigration” placed third among the matters such voters care about, far behind their number one concern: “good jobs / the economy”.

    “People are much more frightened than they are bigoted,” is how the findings were described to me by Karen Nussbaum, the executive director of Working America. The survey “confirmed what we heard all the time: people are fed up, people are hurting, they are very distressed about the fact that their kids don’t have a future” and that “there still hasn’t been a recovery from the recession, that every family still suffers from it in one way or another.” .. source

  • lizmcneill

    This is a dude who went bust running a casino.

    I mean you’d almost have to aim for that to do it.

  • BonaparteOCoonassa

    I blame the Democrats and Clinton for deliberately and shamefully conspiring to traduce and eliminate Bernie Sanders from the nomination – it is arguable that Sanders would have beaten Trump.

  • Jim M

    I don’t think that’s the point; I think the point is that we have a new breed of ‘troll politician’ who knows how to stay in the limelight by being outrageous.

  • lizmcneill

    I’m not sure Bernie, a Jewish agnostic or atheist would have played well with conservative America either. He’d likely have done better in the rust belt but places like Virginia and Nevada?

  • billypilgrim1

    “There was a while when Saddam Hussein was in the news every day.”

    And he used to get 99% of the vote!

    Alas Dr Shipman never put himself forward for election, so we can only speculate as to how he would’ve gotten on.

  • Dee Harvey

    Yes, he played the media like a violin. And they knew he was doing it, but were happy with that as long as he kept giving them good content.

  • All I’m hearing is a howl from a Democratic Party activist.

    Btw, there’s a more complete breakdown of voting patterns here.

    But as it says, “they should be used with caution”.


    Mrs Clinton had the majority of voters on lower incomes, with 52% of those on incomes below $50,000 (£40,000) a year supporting her compared with 41% voting for her opponent. Among those earning more than $50,000, it was 49% to Mr Trump compared with 47% to Mrs Clinton.

    Mrs Clinton’s support among those on incomes below $30,000 was well down on President Obama’s in 2012. He had 63% support from that group compared with 35% voting for Mitt Romney, while Mrs Clinton had 53% support to Mr Trump’s 41%.

    There was also a big swing for voters without a high school diploma, with Mr Trump leading 51% to Mrs Clinton’s 45%. Four years ago, President Obama had 64% support from this group compared with Mitt Romney’s 35%.

    Mr Trump won the rural vote by 62% to 34% and the suburban vote by 50% to 45%, while Mrs Clinton won the urban vote by 59% to 35%.

    Oh, and this

    Looking specifically at white women, they favoured Mr Trump, with 53% supporting him compared with 43% for Mrs Clinton.

  • stewrogers

    My reading of it is that white middle class America felt it was under constant attack, that Clinton was part of the attack and this was actually a big middle finger to that system. Bernie Sanders would have stood more of a chance because he related to the peed off white guy as much as Trump did. But also both parties need to have a long hard look at themselves in the next 4 years. The Democrats snatched defeat from the jaws of victory and the Republicans were so far up their own ass they didn’t see trump enter stage right and take ownership of their party. As for the blame game, everyone needs to take their fair share.

  • Am Ghobsmacht

    His campaign reminded me of Michael O’Leary in some ways.

    Also, regarding the media;

    I was in north America recently and I spent a while listening to ‘liberal’ radio station for a few days (and FOX too, just for the crack) and was repelled by the blatant character assassination content.

    As intelligent as the commentators were I found their Michael Moore style “he’s an ass he’s an ass!” style of commentary very annoying and it created yet more sympathy for Trump.

    Also, all this ridiculous fear-mongering would create a backlash of sorts, a friend of mine sent me a text with a “VOTE TRUMP!!” and a picture of a German flag and a synagogue, I mean what kind of moron do you have to be to believe he’s going to start some sort of Krystalnacht against the Jews?

    I’d argued (gingerly) for Trump to some young American Liberals about a year ago (mainly from a contrarian point of view rather than conviction) and a year of listening to John Oliver and other media commentators pretty much pushed me into the ‘pro Trump’ camp.

    Now, if I (a non-American, uninvolved, Bill Clinton fan) can be pushed into said camp then just imagine how a disillusioned American Joe Sixpack can.

  • Am Ghobsmacht


    Is there a snowball’s chance that there’ll be any reform of lobbying in Washington?

    Is it even possible?

    You’re ideally placed to answer this methinks.

  • LighterSide…

    When discussing why it is that people voted for Trump, one should remember that for many people, the execution of their democratic right to vote is simply a personal popularity contest.
    When George W. Bush debated Al Gore in 2000, people taking part in focus groups claimed that they would feel very comfortable inviting Dubyah to their livingroom, whereas they felt intimidated by Al Gore’s intelligence.
    John Kerry, it was said, reminded people “of the guy who had his homework done on time.” Of course, this isn’t a good quality in a presidential candidate in the view of many, but it does afford many people a chance to get even with the guy from high school who made them look bad for not having done their own homework.
    People seem puzzled at how the born-rich Donald Trump could cast himself as the little guy. He didn’t. He cast himself as the uneducated guy, the guy who spoke simply, who didn’t need no book learnin’, who didn’t talk over anyone’s head, but talked on their level.
    Donald Trump—Lowest Common Denominator par excellence.

  • terence patrick hewett

    Wrote previous that Mark Twain and the Duke of Bilgewater would have understood Trump very well: and Trump is going to do a Ronald Reagan – Mr Cuddley. Trump has proved to be smarter: and has understood the common man. Did you all listen to the President Elect Speech? Did you listen to the music? It was:

    The Fanfare for the Common Man by Aaron Copland……

    But for the disappointed there is Rhapsody in Blue:

  • Cosmo

    Good article.
    If you think about it, Ruarai – AQ and ISIS use exactly the same strategy.
    And so, have been ‘bigged up’ by the media in the west, far far beyond their actual numbers and threat.
    But then, as the great man said, we have nothing to fear, but fear itself.


    Hi Am Ghobsmacht,

    You raise a point (lobbying reform) that I think is MUCH more important to voters than Trump’s personal vulgarity and lack of moral scruples – all the more relevant now since Democrats clearly miscalculated on the power of the later.

    Lobby Reform – considering the chances for:

    Structural indicators: Reforming easier when one party holds all branches. Party of Trump soon will.

    Incentive Indicators:
    Although Trump, like everyone else, talked about reforming lobbying, “to prevent people like me owning politicians”, the vast majority of DC’s *real* Fourth Estate (as the lobbying community likes to describe itself as a calculated insult to the journalist class the despise), is Big Business, hardly a class he and his party are in conflict with.

    The #1 lobbying issue that’s most absurd/open to abuse is arguably (and surely) is the tax code. (In the US it’s legal – basically unique in the developed world – to lobby congress to get tax exceptions, hence the byzantine tax code and why nominal business and individual tax rates are in many respects a red herring. In most democracies, this would meet the textbook definition of corruption. The US tax code is a lobbyist’s design, not a rational or reasonable document.

    Trump he never suggested what these reforms would involve. Real reform, for a start, would include the plethora of exempt “religious’ groups that represent de facto political groups, losing their tex exempt status. Zero chance Trump would do that – just consider who his VP pick is and why.

    Trump simply said, “I can’t be bought”. His tax plan, if it can be called a plan, reflects the plan Republican donors (and lobbyists) on the Republican side have wanted for years. In fact, he talked about undoing the Obama reforms that involved, among other things, capping the amount Hill Staff can accept in lunch and bribes…And it ain’t workers; collective type groups that want to restart the flashy K St lunch culture.

    Personality Indicators: Utterly unpredictable.


    Reforming lobbying is possible – Obama passed major lobbying reform in various ways.

    Reform is a neutral term so it’s very possible the Party of Trump “reforms” the rules – but whether that will make the place less corrupt…let me put it this way: Newt Gingrich, architect of the 90s collapse of civility on Capitol Hill, is being touted as a big player in a Trump administration.

    Reform might come but to what end? Night isn’t darkest just before the dawn – it’s darkest just before it goes completely black.

    P.S. I concur with your O’Leary point!

  • npbinni

    The media thought they were destroying Trump. But, in reality, he played them, starting way back in the primaries. There was usually a grain of truth in most things he said, which obviously resonated and over time gained traction with a lot of people. But the media was oblivious to it, given their blind hate. I wonder how many of the 30%, who said earlier this year that they trust the media, still do?