Is the Entire Trump Campaign Just a Revenue-Generating Marketing Ploy?

You can say a lot of negative things about Donald J. Trump, but he can never be accused of not being a business opportunist. As this election cycle painfully swirls to a close, Trump has cleverly set himself up for his next income stream, whether he’s in the White House or not.

Donald TrumpYou can say a lot of negative things about Donald J. Trump, but he can never be accused of not being a business opportunist. As this election cycle painfully swirls to a close, Trump has cleverly set himself up for his next income stream, whether he’s in the White House or not.

Take a step back for just a moment and consider this: You’re sitting in a strategic planning meeting with a brand whose popularity is on the decline. Revenues have been slowly sinking, consumers have been losing interest in your products and services, and the brand is considered old-fashioned or stale. As a marketer, what do you suggest?

Revamp the brand with fresh new messaging and content? Create new brand extensions that might appeal to a new audience? Abandon products or services that are no longer making a positive contribution to the business? Generate brand buzz with timely and relevant offers? Cement brand loyalty by listening to your loyalists, and then tapping into their hearts and minds by giving them what they’re asking for? Yes, yes, yes, yes and yes!

Now consider this:

In the late 1980’s, Trump toyed with a presidential run while he struggled with the financial debt of his purchase of the Taj Mahal casino and the bankruptcy of the Trump Plaza Hotel.

In 2000, Trump announced his candidacy as a Reform Party candidate. He was in financial struggles again after:

  • “Trump: The Game” had been discontinued
  • Trump Airlines had failed to turn a profit
  • Bought, sold, bought and sold the New Jersey Generals
  • Trump Hotels and Casinos Resort filed for bankruptcy – twice
  • Trump Mortgage fails

In March 2009, Trump joins Twitter but doesn’t tweet anything significant for 2-years.

In January 2011, Trump tweets a link to his fan-made website shouldtrumprun.com – and leverages feedback to craft his new brand message.

In March 2011, Trump is a leading presidential contender.

In May 2011, Trump announces he will not run. During the remaining months of 2011:

  • Trump Vodka fails
  • Trump Steaks fails
  • Trump Ice fails
  • Trump University fails

Timing Really Is Everything

The recent flaps over mailings sent out by Republican fundraisers reminded me of a rule put forth years ago by the late Dick Benson: “Direct mail should be scrupulously honest.” In case you don’t know, here’s the skinny. First, the use of the word “Census” on mailings by the Republican National Committee and the National Republican Congressional Committee led to Congressional passage of a bill last month that required new, clarifying language on the outer.

The recent flaps over mailings sent out by Republican fundraisers reminded me of a rule put forth years ago by the late Dick Benson: “Direct mail should be scrupulously honest.”

In case you don’t know, here’s the skinny. First, the use of the word “Census” on mailings by the Republican National Committee and the National Republican Congressional Committee led to Congressional passage of a bill last month that required new, clarifying language on the outer. Apparently, there had been some concern that people would mistake these efforts for the big Census Bureau mailing that was due to drop. Then, someone who actually had that complaint called the number on the RNC’s donation form, only to discover that it was for a phone sex line. Coming on the heels of news about lavish RNC spending, it’s been a tough few weeks for the party.

It’s easy to dismiss the second problem as merely a vendor mistake, one that appeared on only some of the mailings. It’s also easy to brush aside criticism of using “Census” on the outer. After all, it’s legal — it had passed muster with the USPS. And, it doesn’t really look like the Census mailer. It’s pretty obvious when opened that it’s just another issues poll, with leading questions, and a request for money. There’s nothing wrong with that, both parties have been mailing surveys for many years.

But it illustrates a bigger problem. A great national political party shouldn’t rely on a gimmick, like putting “Census”, or the IRS form — like “(2009) Return Enclosed” on the outer envelope to get someone to open it. Seriously, no one at the RNC thought this through, and saw this bad publicity coming? And, given how some of the Republican base feels about the Census, and especially, the IRS, it’s an especially puzzling choice of a teaser.

Twenty-five years ago, in the newsletter Who’s Mailing What!, Roger Craver wrote that to have a successful direct mail appeal, the “donors of principle,” the heart of any political organization, must be motivated by writing that conveys mission, selectivity, urgent need and effectiveness. The GOP was way ahead of the Democratic Party in this regard for decades, but as shown in the 2008 presidential race, not anymore. It’s going to be very interesting to see how both parties will energize the faithful in this election year.