How to Beat Donald Trump: The Advertising Playbook
On November 3rd, we'll -- once again -- get to choose the star of our reality show, The U.S. President. Even in the midst of a pandemic, campaign advertising is sure to top the total $2.4 billion spent in 2016.
As a PR consultant and former journalist, I have spent a lot of time analyzing how Trump plays his game. We already know he's a marketing genius; all of his seemingly erratic Tweets have purpose (which I've written about here), helping to shore up his base of supporters by drawing a deep line in the sand and forcing people to choose a side. There is no middle ground with Trump.
Here's the playbook that I think Joe Biden should follow (in battleground states) to beat Trump... and it's a fairly simple one. I'll start with a few tactical changes before going into four ads targeting certain groups that weaken Trump's voter base. Consistency will be key -- this isn't a one-off -- and Biden will need to run these messages into the ground. Like novocaine, give it time, it will work.
PLAY HIS NAME GAME
Lyin' Ted (Cruz), Crooked Hillary (Clinton), Low Energy Jeb (Bush), Sleepy Joe (Biden), Crazy Bernie (Sanders), Sleezy Adam Shiff... the list of nicknames Trump labels his political opponents (Republican or Democrat) is long. While the practice has been labeled juvenile, or repugnant, it is unquestionably memorable and successful. By repeatedly labeling and listing people with a simple moniker ahead of their names -- with negative connotations -- Trump has forced us to associate that description with those politicians.
Biden shouldn't worry about stooping to Trump's level. At this point, Biden will not lose the Democratic voter base, as their passion to defeat Trump supersedes anything he does. This is not about switching the vote of a Trump supporter -- nearly impossible -- but more about making those on the fence reluctant to head to the polls to cast a vote for Trump. This is what, arguably, happened to Hillary Clinton as a large portion of her own party viewed her unfavorably and stayed home, rather than vote for her.
Ideally, I'd cycle between a few monikers for Trump, but there's also the possibility for variations. Here's what I'd go with:
"Bone Spurs Donald"
"Six-Times Bankrupt Donald"
"Daddy's Money Donald"
"Wife Cheating Donald"
Let me explain why.
TARGETING ON-THE-FENCE TRUMP VOTERS
There's three groups -- that largely support Trump -- where I believe Biden can siphon off some of his base: the military, finance/business, and family/religious voters.
For the military audience, Biden needs to label Trump in all of his tweets and correspondences as, "Bone Spurs Trump" or "Draft-Dodging Donald". Forget that Biden also didn't serve, Trump bought his way out through his rich "daddy." Military voters have a lot of pride in their service, are opinionated (they've earned the right), and hold a lot of sway in their communities. Trump escaped serving in the military because of his father's connections and the note of a doctor who said he had "bone spurs" in his foot. The podiatrist who wrote the medical deferment lived in one of Trump's father's buildings and told his daughters he did it as a favor to Fred Trump. Trump's own personal lawyer for 12 years (2006 – 2018) has gone on record to say Trump told him he wasn't "stupid" and would not have gone to Vietnam.
The more Biden tweets these monikers, the more that information becomes common knowledge. Biden has to hammer him with these nicknames every chance he gets. Twitter. Media interviews. Speeches.
Trump is not middle America. He never has been. He is 1%. And worse yet, he is that 1% through his inheritance from his father.
When it comes to Biden's financial rhetoric, he should label Trump, "Daddy's Money Donald" and "Six Times Bankrupt Donald," which will highlight the fact Trump's not a self-made millionaire and he's a repeat failure. This is a man who bets fast and loose and now he's in charge with America's financial future?!?
You keep hammering these nicknames and they stay on mind more than a zinger in a debate ever will.
It's a fact Donald Trump has had numerous affairs while married. It's a fact he paid off a porn star so she wouldn't go public. It's a fact Donald Trump candidly talks about grabbing women by their "pussy" without any consent. Trump has been married three times, cheating on all of them. How can anyone who professes to be "for" family values and an advocate of religious values support a man who has always been about his own selfish needs and desires?
You call Trump for what he is: "Wife Cheating Donald".
USE SMALLER WORDS
It's important to realize that Trump earned his rabid constituent base by using non-political, smaller words that do not intimidate people. When I was a reporter, there was a simple mantra we had regarding how we would talk on air: "K.I.S.S." – or, Keep It Simple, Stupid. Whenever we would get ahead of ourselves, someone would just say, "KISS."
The fact of the matter is that when people refer to Trump as a "xenophobe," or a "bigot," or a "racist," there are a lot of people who those words conjure up zero feelings, and, unfortunately, many who can't even properly define them.
Advertisements to dissuade Trump supporters must be kept simple. KISS. You must appeal to the BASIC emotions. If politicians stopped calling Trump "xenophobic" and said things like, "Trump doesn't care about Chinese people in America", which one resonates more? If Kanye West had said, "Bush is a xenophobe" rather than "George Bush doesn't care about black people", would we still be talking about it today?
You must use smaller words that paint emotion. Forget about large policy issues when combatting Trump. The only thing that resonated with voters about Hillary were "Crooked" and "Emails".
COMMERCIALS TO AIR
Commercials for Election 2020 have to appeal to basic senses. Most people voting on "high level" issues regarding foreign policy, economy, immigration, environment, education or any others, have already decided who they'll vote for. This is about getting people on the fence to NOT vote for Trump – to stay at home and refrain from voting, at the very least.
You must appeal to emotions and not topics.
Commercial #1: Leadership Matters
Videos and still shots of past Presidents -- Republican and Democrat -- visiting the front lines of national emergencies: President Obama at Hurricane Sandy, President Bush at 9/11 Ground Zero, Clinton at Northridge Earthquake, H.W. Bush in Saudi Arabia/Iraq War...
Voice Over – "In times of national emergencies, our nation's leaders have worked to comfort us, unite us, and to lead us forward."
Video of Trump giving his daily press briefings INSIDE The White House, combative and derisive.
Text appears on screen: "Where was Trump during the worst crisis of our lifetimes? Inside The White House –dividing us."
Video of various U.S. Governors touring hospitals, manufacturing plants, locations for temporary hospital facilities, giving briefings on location...
Voice Over – "Our nation's Governors answered the call while the U.S. President hid behind a podium, encouraging dissension and protests..."
Video of Trump arguing with reporters, Tweets calling for "liberating" states.
Text appears on screen: "Our country deserves better than this. Our country deserves a leader."
Commercial #2: A Name-Calling President (Target: Parents/Family voters)
A kid, 8 years old, walks around a playground, calling other kids "crazy," "little," "fat," "dummy," "weirdo". The kids show varying levels of sadness, hurt, and confusion, before a mother comes into frame and holds her hurt child.
Voice over – "You wouldn't teach your kids these values, why would you want that in a leader of our great nation?"
Video of Trump using the exact same names in speeches and interviews...
Text appears on screen: Values Matter For Our Future
Text on screen: Vote for Values. Vote Joe Biden.
Commercial #3: Trump is No Friend to the Military (Target: Military voters)
|Generals no longer with Trump White House|
Archived footage of Donald Trump playing golf, partying on a yacht, flying on his private plane, eating gourmet food, courting women half his age...
Voice over – "Fact: Donald Trump is a draft dodger. Fact: Donald Trump avoided military service by getting a doctor to write he had bone spurs. Fact: Donald Trump is no friend of the military."
Pictures appear of military generals who have been fired or have resigned from Trump's administration.
Text appears on screen: "All these career military men and leaders disagreed with Draft-Dodging Donald's views and either quit or were replaced in his administration: General James Mattis, General James Amos, General John Paxton Jr., General Joseph Dunford, General John Allen, General H.R. McMaster, General Michael Flynn"
Voice over – "Our nation's most decorated and highest-ranking military Generals were all disrespected and pushed out by Donald Trump. They served with honor and told the truth."
Text appears on screen: "I earned my spurs on the battlefield... And Donald Trump earned his spurs in a letter from a doctor." – Four-Star General Jim Mattis, after resigning as Draft-Dodging Donald's Secretary of Defense
Voice over – "Our Career Military Servicemembers Deserved Better Than This."
Text comes on screen: "Draft-Dodging Donald is NO Friend of the Military"
Commercial #4: A Man Who Can't Lead His Own House (Target: Finance/Business voters)
|Replace family members with the revolving door of Trump's Cabinet and Administration|
An organizational tree appears of Trump's Cabinet, Advisors, and Staff. Former staff faces quickly change under their positions, including White House Chief of Staff, National Security Advisor, Press Secretary, Communications Director...
Text appears on screen: "82% of Donald Trump's staff and his own Cabinet appointees have left his team. How can someone who can't even keep his own house in order be fit to lead us?"
Faces keep changing around Trump's organizational tree...
Text appears on screen: "The guy is unstable. Everyone insides knows it, everyone outside knows it." – Anthony Scaramucci, Former Trump White House Communications Director
"Undisciplined. Doesn't like to read. A moron." – Rex Tillerson, Former Trump U.S. Secretary of State
"An idiot. A Dope... with the intelligence of a kindergartener." – H.R. McMaster, Former Trump National Security Advisor and retired Army General
Donald Trump's face appears on screen...
Text appears on screen with voiceover: "Six-Time Bankrupted Trump is a Failed Businessman and a Failed Leader. Is He Who You Want Handling Our Country's Financial Future?"
National debt tracker appears on screen with ongoing growth of numbers, currently at: $25,615,050,000.00
The crazy thing about everything I've written is that it's factual. This is the current President of the United States. A six-time bankrupted individual who didn't earn his own money, cheats on his wives, calls people "nasty" names, while firing and blaming everyone else around him. You don't not need to come up with false statements, or concerns about emails, or where he was born, because his own story is outrageous enough. All you need to do is keep your campaign consistent and simple.
"I am sickened at the extent and pervasiveness of dishonesty and misdirection by individuals in the highest office of the land, including the President." – Mitt Romney, Republican U.S. Senator Mitt Romney from Utah, and 2008 Republican Nominee for President.
Four more years would cause irreparable harm to an entire generation of Americans as well as the foundation of American principles and values.