The Art Of The Deal, The Grift Of The Trump

Before we go out on the “Happy Christmas to all, and to all a good night!” bender, I wanted to do a little reflection on  the year in advertising.

Who am I kidding? Any reflection on 2015 turns into The Year in Trump.

So far, with almost 11 months to go to the election, the Trumpster, as he once affectionately called himself, has managed to transform political advertising with a $300,000 radio buy in Iowa that shook the world.

Precisely. No “Daisy,” the spots were ho-hum and despite his wall of words, “low energy.” Rather, to the embarrassment of all political consultants and especially Jeb’s, Trump the human brand strode the world like an earned media colossus, stepping on every part of the advertising/marketing/communications industry and reshaping it in his image.

His biggest innovation this year was the audio-cloud of Trumpiness. That’s when otherwise respected news anchors are shown looking up at this invisible deity in the ceiling as his call-in voice, the one god, blankets the studio. It’s like that famous Spielberg shot of everyone open-mouthed, looking up at a huge flash of light in the suburban sky.



Call it the Trump Bump. It didn’t happen overnight. It took years of single-minded craftsmanship and was super-charged by his years on “The Apprentice.”

That’s when “Mr. Trump” gave orders from the back of a speeding limousine over a squawk box to his Angels, or descended in his helicopter  to the rooftop, where the young worshipers were assembled. He also let the lucky few into his gilded and marbled apartment. 

Ultimately of course, he decided who lived and who died — aka, “You’re fired.” These were like the moves of an Eastern European strong man, and he’s got that down, even the costume.

He doesn’t wear braid and epaulettes, but he does have have his signature blue suit, white shirt and red tie as his uniform, and he knows how to work it. ( That’s why seeing him in golf clothes is a very creepy assault to the system, as if we are seeing him nude or something.)

His fidelity to his brand uniform was true way back in 2002, when he appeared in a McDonald’s commercial with Grimace, the giant purple, potato-shaped thing with tender blinking eyes. Grimace was like a less-evolved M&M in that he did not speak -- thus, the perfect foil for Brandmaster Trump.

The idea was cute enough. It took the form of a "Got a buck? You're in luck'' spot, promoting an expanded dollar menu.

In the end, Donald is shown from the back, standing at his office window with his arm around Grimace. (Although even then, he was not used to encircling anything that wide and ovoid.)  He says something about how he’s great at deals, but Grimace is too, and that together, “We could own this town.”

Who could have predicted that a short 13 years hence, owning the town would be teeny tiny potatoes for Trump?

I bring this spot up because a very engaging story about the making of it has emerged lately on social media.

A creative director on the shoot for that spot posted on Facebook about interacting with Trump on the shoot. (Which really was in his Trump Tower office in NYC.)

“At one point before the camera rolled, there was a discussion I was asked to arbitrate. It seems the art director of the commercial had intended for Donald to wear a purple tie," which would have visually connected him to Grimace.

“Donald didn't want to wear the purple tie. So we were called into a board room with a table filled with hundreds of various purple ties … I asked Trump, if he didn't like the tie my guy had selected, if he'd like to select another purple tie. 'No, I wouldn't. Look, this is what I wear (pointing to his own red tie.) This is it, this is what you paid for (north of $500K for one day's work as I recall), this is what you get.'”

The creative director decided to let him wear the red tie for the sake of moving on with the production.

But for the CD, the kicker was that at the end of the day, he asked the stylist about the vast collection of purple ties. The stylist told him they were gone: “One of Trump’s people came in and said, 'Wrap them all up, Mr. Trump wants them.'”

The CD ended his piece with “To this day, every time I see him wear a purple tie, I know where the cheap son of a bitch got it."

The post got hundreds of responses, many from fellow ad folks saying Mr. T. did the same thing on their shoots.

Another popular story now surfacing had to do with Chiat/Day founder Jay Chiat, whose agency won the misbegotten Trump Shuttle as an account. (Trump bought the Eastern Shuttle and upgraded it to super luxury, which turned out to be such a “disaster” he had to sell it as part of a bankruptcy proceeding.)

According to Chiat, Trump was not happy with any of the ads the agency made, and he rarely paid. In the end, Trump sent Chiat a letter excoriating him and the agency. Chiat shot a letter back saying, “Dear Donald, Some lunatic has gotten hold of your stationery and I thought you’d like to know.”

It wasn’t an original line (it started with a Congressman years before.) But it also illustrates that Trump was never happy with his treatment in any sort of media unless he could completely control it.

The only happy story about Trump and an ad agency I could find came from Tom Messner, a founder of  breakaway agency Messner, Vetere, Berger, & Schmetterer. The year was 1984, and in addition to his agency start-up, Messner had worked on The Tuesday Team, which created the seminal campaign “It’s Morning Again in America” that helped reelect Ronald Reagan. That attracted Donald Trump, who wanted to place an open-letter ad in newspapers.

Even then, the future Republican was worried about trade and unfairness. The agency give Trump's letter the headline “There’s nothing about the U.S. Defense Policy that a little backbone couldn’t cure,” and placed it in newspapers.

Messner says he was warned that Trump didn’t pay. He explains: "But you can't place political or issue ads or commercials without paying upfront or posting a bond.” Trump paid.

Messner adds: “We were in the capitalizing stage and the commission came in handy. We began with each partner throwing in $2.50, so we valued cash and Mr. Trump.”
May your days be merry and bright. Certainly, ours will continue to be brightened by the blinding reflection off a certain self-made media deity with his blue suit, white shirt, red tie and gilded hair.

To this day, Trump continues to assure anyone and everyone that associating with him makes sales go “through the roof.” Just like Santa!

14 comments about "The Art Of The Deal, The Grift Of The Trump".
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  1. Don Perman from self, December 24, 2015 at 2:26 p.m.

    Great read. And impressive as ever in its depth of industry knowledge. 

  2. Craig Mcdaniel from Sweepstakes Today LLC, December 24, 2015 at 2:35 p.m.

    I enjoyed your comment about Mr. Trump. He doesn't have my vote but I agree with your comment is on "Media Post". I do admire how Mr. Trump has transformed the media landscape in presidential politics. His methods will be studied for years to come.

  3. Ruth Thomas from Second helping, December 24, 2015 at 3:32 p.m.

    Another great column to conclude this crazy year...

  4. Jane Farrell from Freelance, December 24, 2015 at 4:23 p.m.

    Trump has change the game - at least for this election. His is a unique case; he is a showbiz personality who has gotten where he is by playing to the lowest common denominator. I d on't know how many other people there are who are like that.

  5. Claudia Caplan from MDC Partners, December 24, 2015 at 4:32 p.m.

    I think the most interesting aspect of this is his eschewing of paid media  Generally speaking, I'm with our friend Bob Hoffman, aka the Ad Contrarian, that having friends or likes or social media mentions doesn't sell much of anything. But Trump has shown how to use social and earned media in a highly effective way.  What do you say Barbara?  Is  he the exception that proves the rule or is politics different from laundry soap?

  6. George Parker from Parker Consultants, December 24, 2015 at 7:05 p.m.

    Bill Cosby used to take everything home from Jello shoots at Y&R, including the champagne (be careful what you drink in his dressing room.) Boxes of illegal Cohibas, and the kids wardrobes.
    Incidentally, in British patois, a "trump" is a "fart."
    Cheers/George "AdScam" Parker

  7. Dean Fox from ScreenTwo LLC, December 24, 2015 at 8:58 p.m.

    Trump has redefined the meaning of 'earned media'.  As the daily newspaper guys used to say, 'if it bleeds, it leads', only now, it's 'whenever he lies, his poll numbers fly', and the cable news guys just can't get enough. The whole world is watching. Can you imagine what they must be thinking about the state of our democracy and the import of a Trump presidency?

  8. Tom Messner from BONACCOLTA MESSNER, December 25, 2015 at 11:09 a.m.

    Slight correction. While we worked on Reagan in '84, we worked for Trump in December of '87, a year or so after starting biz. The anti-Japan letter ran in the Month That Will Live in Infamy, but missed the 7th fortuitously by several days. Mr. Trump paid us "full commission,"a dying trend. So we made around 25,000 on 15 and 17.65, enablng us to have a more joyous Christmas party and distribute extra money as we were on the cash system of accounting then, the only form I could ever understand. The ties that The Donald wanted from the other production seems to be evidence he is no fool since if he didn't take them they'd probably be re-sold to Tie City by the PAs. I doubt Trump is a schnorrer, more likely he doesn't want to be a schnuck...his recent dabbling in Yiddische Sprach not withstanding.

  9. George Parker from Parker Consultants, December 25, 2015 at 9:35 p.m.

    @Tom... What the fuck are you doing commenting on Christmas Day... Oh, wait a minute, what the fuck am I doing responding to your comment on Christmas Day? Cheers and bottoms up on Christmas Day, or whatever.

  10. Tom Messner from BONACCOLTA MESSNER, December 26, 2015 at 8:38 a.m.

    I got up, took all my presents out of the stockings, checked to see if there were pieces of coal from Newcastle, but insteasd of read ing Luke, I read Barbara. Merry Christmas, George. And today is Boxing Day, even a higher holy day in the anglican, apostate calendar.

  11. David Mountain from Marketing and Advertising Direction, December 28, 2015 at 11 a.m.

    Silvio Berlusconi should demand royalties.

  12. Paula Lynn from Who Else Unlimited, December 28, 2015 at 12:01 p.m.

    "which he rarely paid" means he did not pay his bills. 4 bankruptcies. So many people lost their jobs, homes, businesses, health insurance, families (remember the 1st casino one in particular). Job disintigrator. Economy distintigrator. Life distinigrator. Selfishie stickers follow him. Wait until they need something he would disinigrate. The other stagers who would be happy to pick up his pieces are even worse. And if you think Italy is in bad shape - selling farms, businesses, houses to foreign investors especially the Chinese - who would buy our bankruptcies ?

  13. George Parker from Parker Consultants replied, December 28, 2015 at 4:59 p.m.

    @Tom & Barbara... Soon we shall enjoy New Years Eve and New Years Day. A truly pagan holiday celebrated by the Scottish with great gusto and tsunamis of alcohol. "Up yer Kilt."

  14. Alan Wasserstrom from None, December 29, 2015 at 5:35 p.m.

    Donald may not pay the ad agencies and even today he got millions of dollars in free advertising from the incessant reporting about his announcement to spend millions in January and his predictable focusing on Bill Clinton's 'sexism'.But I wonder if he paid the mob the two percent they extorted from all builders in New York according to last Sunday's 60 Minutes segment with the Cuban FBI informant. As usual a thoroughly informative and fun read for a happy new years.

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