Madison Avenue Lost This Election

As many of us in advertising and marketing search for answers as to how what looked like a sure thing turned into a loss, there are many reasons being discussed. From low voter turnouts among certain demographic segments to an inability to win votes from other groups that should have been part of Secretary Hillary Clinton's coalition, one question asked a lot in ad agencies and marketing organizations is: Was Clinton's advertising effective enough?

Though there is no value in pointing fingers today, we do need to analyze the results of this election campaign in order to understand what went wrong to be smarter in 2020.

Painting President-elect Donald Trump as a racist and a bully and as someone unfit to serve as President was a main theme of Clinton's advertising. Despite my personal feelings, Trump seemed to rise in polls with almost every outlandish comment that he made. Furthermore, with exit polls showing that voters wanted a “strong leader,” many were clearly willing to put up with political incorrectness if it made Trump appear strong.



While Trump's marketing effectively focused on short and memorable messaging, like "Crooked Hillary" and "drain the swamp,” Clinton failed to produce memorable, concise and effective marketing messages which would move voters beyond her base. 

To more effectively respond and challenge Trump, here are four ad ideas which Clinton could have focused on:

1. From Russia with Love: Though Clinton and others hinted at connections between Trump and Russia, they weren't aggressive in a "drain the swamp" way. Instead, they should have pulled all of the evidence together and positioned Comrade Trump convincingly as a puppet of Putin while painting a picture of the repercussions for America. This ad should close with a claim that Trump's unwillingness to disclose his taxes indicates a strong likelihood of business ties to Russia and the hashtag #WhatAreYouHiding. 

2. Trump University Alumni Rally: Given Trump's claim that he'd make America great, why didn't Clinton record a commercial with disgruntled Trump University Alumni talking about how "great" Trump University made (or didn't make) them and how many jobs they got via Trump University. With the court case beginning later this month, it wouldn't have been that hard to drum up a few volunteers.

3. Would you want to be an Employee of a Bankrupt company? Given the six bankruptcies of Trump's businesses, Clinton should have used this as the basis to question Trump's ability as a business man, his claim to fame. Yes, Clinton did refer to Trump's bankruptcies, but not consistently or aggressively enough. In fact, a series of ads should have been created to challenge Trump's business record.

4. Trump is from the Swamp: Though voters didn't necessarily like, many ultimately voted for him because they felt that there needed to be a change in Washington. Trump has made thousands, if not millions, of dollars in contributions to political campaigns in order to receive better treatment for his business interests — even though he has never served in government in Washington or elsewhere. 

Though it would have been a challenge, Clinton's ad team needed to find a way, which would resonate with voters disgusted with Washington, that this behavior also made Trump part of the swamp. The ads questioning Trump's contribution to Florida Attorney General Pam Biondi at around the time Florida was considering pursuing legal action against Trump University weren't effective enough in convincing Trump supporters that he was part of the swamp. 

Finding a way to challenge Trump's outsider status would have been a challenge but more than the other proposed ads, this could have changed the course of the election. Is the guy that benefits from filling the swamp with water really going to want to drain the swamp, particularly when the initial head of his transition team was governor when a few lanes of a bridge were closed to cause nightmare traffic jams into New York City?

Would these ads have moved millions over to vote for Clinton? Probably not. However, as Nate Silver said in his first post-election analysis, if Clinton had moved one out of every 100 Trump voters to her side, she'd be President-elect Clinton today. 

In the interest of fairness and disclosure, I didn't think of these things in the summer or even more recently. Frankly, I didn't think they were necessary. In that, I was wrong.

But Michael Moore and others tried to warn us. 

Unfortunately, the right people weren't listening.

2 comments about "Madison Avenue Lost This Election".
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  1. Ed Papazian from Media Dynamics Inc, November 17, 2016 at 5:25 p.m.

    Jennifer, while I found Trump's behavior and lack of knowledge appalling, I think that it's unfair to blame Hillary's defeat on "Madison Avenue"---in effect, on advertising. I am reasonably sure that she and her "inner circle" signed off on all of her campaign's advertising and probably mandated what directions it would take. It seems like this is more a case of client misdirection rather than bad agency positioning and creative executional work.

  2. x xxxxxxxxxx from out, November 23, 2016 at 11:57 a.m.

    This election was a Hobson's choice.  But this column implies that if Clinton's attack messages were better, then the outcome would have changed.  All of the ad ideas you mention above are negative. The problem is that ad ideas don't fix a bad brand.  Most of the exit polls indicated that the population did not clearly understand Clinton's platform, which didn't seem to clearly identify how she was going to revitalize the economy, protect the nation's citizens, or make Washington more effective.  It was only well received by policy wonks.  Further, her campaign just used data in the absence of real people interpreting it, which meant whatever algorithm was in place it just kept reinforcing the wrong message.  It missed millions of angry people.  Remember brand positioning?  It wasn't strong in her campaign.

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