Cult of Personality in Politics

This is not an article about politics. Well, it might be just a little. It’s an exploration about how a luxury personal brand became a political brand and the question remains if they are able to survive separately now that they are merged.  Has it been a success? Some would say, “yes, smashing” while others who used to ‘aspire or admire’ the solid gold billionaire are less than impressed.

What did Donald Trump have that the other Republican candidates didn’t have? From a branding standpoint he created an illusion of success with his billions and a luxury lifestyle that included the model wife. He was also willing to be a beacon of light for the darker side of politics. Other Republicans had political pedigree but they weren’t very appealing to a public that was tired of feeling that their voices were not being heard. Washington was a ‘swamp’ where the typical everyday politicians lived and his ‘outsider’ or ‘businessman’ brand appeal seemed like a novel idea. He made sure they all felt like they were part of a greater vision to “Make America Great Again’.  This is heady stuff for someone who has never thought he could even be close to a guy like Donald.

The politics of Donald Trump had nothing in common with what was considered a Republican or Conservative agenda. He confounded the pundits who declared that anyone running on his platform could not become a President.  “He simply does not have the brand of a president” they all declared.  He proved them wrong.  We are focused here on the aspects or a personal luxury brand; how a billionaire told a brand story, passed out red caps with a slogan that placed himself in the center of the discussion about what was wrong with America.  The working classes (mostly men) all lined up to listen to his pitch.  It has been said that this brand of politics based on a “Populist” philosophy was part of a movement that is now sweeping the world. From a brand standpoint, it was nothing short of a successful pitch that closed many sales. The politics of  “the other” as a brand story, resonated with many people.


The Selling of a President

The Trump Brand is one of luxury and perfectly expressed by the 14k gold chairs he and his family sit on in this magazine photo.  Like ‘faux’ American Royalty, the Trumps are a total re-write of Donal’d’s previous family and children. An entire “brand revision” if you will. The transposition of a personal luxury brand into a political brand is fraught with difficulties.  As we reflect on how a personal luxury brand became a President we need to understand the story that was created. Like all old school corporate brands, his story is not about ‘authenticity, transparency or empowering the common man or woman’ (especially not women).

What did Mr. Trump’s story promise?

Trump’s story is really about the ‘forgotten’ white male.  Statistics show that the highest growth in our economy which began in the 1970s, occurred because women joined the workforce in large numbers. It changed the GNP of America, forever. Mr. Trump knew that certain sectors of the country were not being served (how he knew is another story) but this awareness put his audience into clear focus. A story crafted carefully for the right audience becomes a powerful tool for connection and puts the seller into the shoes of the buyer.  He promised that using his business expertise, he would fix stuff that the regular guy didn’t really understand. This is a heady promise to his audience who have felt displaced in a rapidly changing world of technology and innovation. This working class audience, many whom were high school (some college) educated but displaced dreamed of the golden opportunities that awaited them. And Donald would be the guy to deliver it.

Signs of Stress in the Facade of a Personal Brand

The unraveling of the brand and its promise began his first official day in office when his communications director (remember those mythical crowds?) began the year with a lie. With the murmurs of conflicts of interest and secret Russian connections in the background his brand story changed in subtle ways that were very damaging to his main story; it would be hard to sway his devoted audiences who were not necessarily looking at these nuances. But when you begin to layer it on for a long period of time, the crack in the facade becomes pronounced. A brand can only stand that for so long. 

What Branding Strategy does a President Need to Succeed?

Our nation is not a nation of personalities but of laws.  But if we look at the idea of the Presidency (itself a national brand) so much depends upon the man (or woman) to execute a successful brand strategy. This was a hallmark of the Kennedy, Reagan, Roosevelt, George Washington or Lincoln presidencies.  Each had a sense that their role was to both to communicate and to ennoble the best aspects of ourselves so that we might succeed as a country. This was largely due to the success of their personal brand, in modern terms and certainly, President Lincoln knew how to write a speech. He was a great communicator.  So is Mr. Trump.  He has an instant communications stream and tells his followers on Twitter just what he is thinking.  This has many consequences in the overall communications strategy of a brand.  Some good, some not so good. 

The Undoing of a Personal Brand

The force of a brand or a personality does not make a democracy nor does it guarantee anything except the hope that a certain personality and dedication can succeed given the challenges that are the inherent in the office of the presidency. 

If there are flaws in the personality there is trouble in paradise for a personal brand. This is because a personal brand must be based on some aspects of a personality, that “seem” to authentically possess a ‘set of values’ (they can be ‘good or evil’). Without this consistency a brand simply cannot operate with sustained success.  I repeat:  Without a consistency of purpose and a set of values, a successful brand cannot succeed. Mr. Trump had a well established personal brand but it is now showing signs of trouble.  

“The Stormy Factor”

And then along came ‘Stormy’ and the story of this affair and subsequent cover-up may be the undoing of the brand of Donald Trump as we know it. What does a story like this do to a brand? For Mr. Trump, maybe not that much.  I would not comment here on the legal or illegal aspects of the story, rather the fact that as a character flaw it could be problematic.  The people in his audience truly like his wife, Melania (who has a very high approval rating)  and would see this type of behavior as unacceptable.  This can do damage to his overall brand and  could be seen to show his lack of respect for her, and the marriage.  As the voters have already shown in the recent elections, there may be as new storm, coming. I hope he has packed his umbrella, because I think it’s gonna rain, big. 


Editor’s Note:  A test of how the office of the presidency remains forever in our collective memories as something greater than the man or woman who occupies it will stand as the future of the Presidency as having its own personal brand, its own standing separate from that of the person who occupies it.  We sincerely hope so.


Black & White Style is Forever: The Easiest Way to build your Personal Brand.

What did I love the most about the MET RED CARPET? The black and white looks that ruled.  The trend, is a solid classic and wearable for everyone.  While the “Glitterati” look their best in their Black & White trend on the carpet you can take a note to make this your own.  It’s a fantasy trend that can be purchased at TARGET or H&M and on up the retail food chain.  From a branding standpoint there is no mistake:  Black and White is here to stay.  Season-less.  Always Elegant.  For ‘Every Body’. This is the look you can wear to a wedding, a dinner or a special event and no matter what you do its going to ‘up your game’ for your presentation,  a business dinner and even the most casual of meetings.

Black and White has the cool factor of a James Bond Tux, a Rocker T-shirt, a Black denim Jean, a White T-Shirt or a ruffled Tux Shirt or motorcycle jacket.  Iconic fashion pieces or landmarks stay around forever.  James Bond, Patty Smith, Marlon Brando, Audrey Hepburn, Cher are just a few of the famous names who embrace the black and white theme.  It’s a Brand Builder for your personal brand that will never let you down.  So go ahead, get it down to a science and never worry about your style ever again.  Really.  Just focus on the best Black or White piece that looks good on your figure, try a jacket, a coat, blazer, or even a cashmere sweater over a slack, pencil skirt or slim LBD.  There are unlimited ways to wear black and white and it will never let you down.

Here is how the glitterati at the Met wore it, and I think we can all agree, it never looked better.

MET madness: How one woman brought POP CULTURE to America’s most hallowed instution.

Anna Wintour.  Vogue editor and “one small woman” who packs a punch on world’s cultural landscape has done it again. Everyone who is anyone, shows up to this event (by invitation) and especially if you are a POP CULTURE couple your appearance at this event by invitation is well,  required.  The range of fashion and culture “fashion madness”  reigned on the carpet and here is just a few of the couples in their duds. The couple that walks the carpet together (most likely) stays together.

In VOGUE STYLE, we trust.  Amen.

BRAND IMPLOSION: United, Pepsi, Adidas

UnknownWhen our conversation briefly turns from a large man with very orange hair to what we call in the industry “Brand Implosion” things must be pretty bad in the world of corporate advertising.  You have already seen the videos or heard on the news or read the articles on PEPSI,  UNITED AIRLINES and ADIDAS.  What does it mean for the small business or indie marketer? Taking cues from the “big mothers” of American (and international) brands there is a singular thread they all have in common:  Tone Deafness. 

What is tone? What does it mean when your brand is simply not acknowledging the community, diversity or customers in the message? It’s as if the creative team were all communicating with little orange juice cans tied with string:trying their best with the tools they had to work with, but the lifeline to the culture was simply out of date. Internally these companies have lost sight of our culture. Surprisingly they also seem to  have no systems  to check or challenge the creative of their organization.  This leads to chaos, mixed messages and in the case of ADIDAS,  no one proofread the emails that went out after the Boston Marathon.  They used in the “call to action” line in the email campaign the word “survival” which recalled the horrific events of several years ago. The President of United Airlines took days to apologize to the public and to the barely mentioned the passenger who had been dragged down the aisle of the airplane.  The fact that this was a policy that had stood for years was shocking and was nothing short of entitlement by the airlines. They simply forgot whom they were serving: the customer. 

Pepsi tried to be relevant; they attempted to be “connected” to the world but also missed the tone, the meaning and the content of a real issue. They lost sight of the seriousness of the world around from inside the corporate bubble. Apparently, there is no diversity throughout the creative teams, nor in their awareness of the politics of culture in the world around them. All brands no matter how big, or small, must keep sight of what it is to be serving the public who help them continue to be in business.  The cultural “zeitgeist” is critical to a creative campaign that needs to have a sense of itself as both a business proposition and a cultural one.  Critical questions in testing these messages was not asked before the roll out.  Astonishing, when the resources are vast at these companies. I’ts no wonder that smaller shops, stripped down teams are winning the day with creative that works.

Onwards, and upwards, I hope, from here.

What is Truth: Your Brand Must Tell It.

Is your brand telling the truth? Are you pretending to be something you are not?  A mass market brand that wants to be a luxury brand; a designer brand that has no designer; a luxury travel website that is really a mid-level booking site? All of this is truth in advertising and at the heart of it is your brand story:  Telling the authentic truth about your brand is how you will serve your customers best and achieve the success you (and your brand) deserve.

Truth can come from many sides of your company: Is your message truthful? Is your manufacturing and sourcing truthful? Can you deliver on your promises? The dangers of being untruthful to your  customers and clients is real and in the era of social media there is no where to hide. Truth, in advertising always been both a legal and strategic matter.  Hiding the truth was easy when the employees had no access to the media; now a “tweet” can ‘sink a ship’ or change the price of a stock valuation.  Organizations that are “top down” are struggling with the new kind of employee and customer community who have more power than ever before.

 Is there an “alternate” truth about your manufacturing or your sourcing? A story about your company that is patently false will someday emerge and destroy your brand.  There are many lies told by brands to keep secrets from their customers.  With the very heart of truth and “alternate facts” in the news every day, brands have to be more careful then ever about how they are communicating to their customers, their employees and stockholders.

There is no such thing as an “alternate fact” despite what you may have heard. Your brand whether large or small must be truthful to its DNA to tell an authentic story.  The story starts from its creation or founder, manufacturer or materials, sales or marketing and fulfillment of all your promises.

Seems overwhelming?  Just start at the beginning.  If you are looking at your “personal brand” and want to improve it just be honest and authentic to yourself or make choices that express your reality, “your truth”.  That’s not false, at all.


Photo:  Authentic Hermes Bags “minis” one of the most sought after handmade brands in the world.