10 Nov 5 Things Trump, PETA and other shocker brands can teach us about marketing
Years ago I was at a cocktail party that was also attended by Donald Trump. Don’t ask me how I got invited, I think they mistook me for someone that was important. But regardless of how I got there, I was soon struck by several things about Trump in person. First, it does look like a dead animal is sitting on his head, but I’m pretty sure that’s his own hair. (Although I suspect it’s been planted.) Second, and most surprising, he’s got amazing skin, nice shoulders and a nice ass. Not kidding. Lots of women were flirting with him at this party. I was too scared of Melania.
But I digress. The thing that was the most surprising about Trump was that in person, he wasn’t bombastic nor did he try to dominate the conversation. Although perhaps he was tired, or drunk when I saw him, I think off camera he’s rarely as bombastic as he is on camera. What he’s done is create a persona that works for him. It keeps him in the public eye (he claims he’s never hired a publicist) and serves his purposes.
I often say that Donald Trump is the PETA of personal brands. PETA also achieves its public relations goals through shock value. Remember when President Obama killed a fly, and PETA released a statement accusing him of executing an animal on air? A friend of mine was mocking the group, but I reminded him that probably every other person in the U.S was talking about PETA that day too. Do I think PETA cared about the fly? Of course not. They cared about impressions.
I am not going to debate whether PETA is actually ethical , or whether Donald Trump is a narcissistic egomaniac. But I think there are some things we can learn from these two and other shocker brands in terms of marketing and public relations. Because they’re both highly successful. And everyone knows their name. So here goes:
1. Shocker brands are consistent. Personally, I hate brands that make a statement and then backtrack because they get a bit of kerfuffle. If you’re going to have a strong impact on the market, you have to have a strong voice. And for that reason you will piss some people off sometimes. (Believe me, I know.) Apologize, but don’t let your brand voice waffle around in some kind of amiable, people-pleasing manner. Choose your brand message and voice carefully and stick to it. You don’t have to have shock value, but it does need to be forceful in this cluttered mess of a media market.
2. Shocker brands often get a free pass. Consistency generates automatic forgiveness.
How many times have you heard someone say “Oh, that’s just PETA they’re always doing things like that.” Controversial brands (and people) often generate automatic forgiveness when they say or do something shocking. They’re just performing to expectations and even if people don’t like what they say, they’re more willing to move on because it’s expected. And the brand still gets the impressions.
3. Shocker brands know their audience. Donald Trump knows his audience. And he doesn’t care about anybody else. PETA knows what their donors want, so if they piss off someone else, who cares? When you’re shocking, you tend to attract a passionate fan base. Look at Rush Limbaugh, or even Duck Dynasty for that matter. Even though they may say and do terrible, awful things, their audiences believe they’re “brave” enough to say what everyone else is just thinking.
4. Shocker brands carefully construct bad press. Bad press doesn’t just happen to these brands (and people). It’s carefully planned under the theory that “bad press is like bad breath – better than no breath at all.” Have you ever noticed that certain people and brands tend to do something controversial or crazy when a) they need to avert attention away from something else or b) someone else is getting all the attention. These are not just off-the-cuff occurrences. The response to that squished fly was a carefully managed public relations campaign.
5. Shocker brands hide good deeds if it detracts from their persona. We all know Gloria Allred as a media-hungry attorney, anxious to take any case that will put her in the public eye. Well, did you know that Allred’s firm represents hundreds of cases, mostly rape victims, for settlement fees only, and her publicity and behavior on camera helps serve those cases? In fact, her firm has handled more women’s rights cases than any other law firm in the country. Donald Trump is associated with more than two dozen charities, and even signed a wooden dog bone for an auction benefitting a dog rescue in Mississippi. But he’s not going to publicize THAT. We don’t want our Donald Trump all ooshy gooshy and nice.
To summarize, shocker brands know themselves and their audiences very, very well. They’re carefully orchestrated to look as though they’re flying off the handle, but in essence if they’re doing it right, they are smoothly operated marketing machines who generate a lot of publicity and a lot of money in the process. Adore them or vilify, we can still learn quite a bit from them.