Trump the Bad Product

What if I told you that Donald Trump – or at least his campaign managers – are advertising geniuses?

Well, these facts might get you thinking:

  • Garnered over 70 million votes, the most votes ever in the history of presidential elections for a candidate that lost – that’s still a huge chunk of the market share
  • Appeals to his fanbase with constant, mostly consistent messaging – on-brand, all the time
  • Fervent supporters that will subscribe to virtually anything he says – that’s religion-like brand affinity
  • Managed to build lasting top-of-mind awareness, be it from supporters or detractors – a win in terms of marketing-street-cred
  • Seems to be omnipresent in the media, albeit for the wrong reasons, depending on who you talk to – all publicity is good publicity

Now, with all these ‘achievements’ to date – he still lost.

Yeah you can say that Biden was better, and the Americans wanted change bla bla bla… but there is a more insightful reason why Trump got trumped.

And it comes in the form of an old quote by advertising legend Bill Bernbach:

Bad Product Trumped

You see, Trump was flawed right from the start. Curiosity got the better of most Americans during his first run, perhaps they wanted to see what would happen if a non-political candidate was elected.

And elected he was, which gifted American late-night talk show hosts abundance of material. They really have their work cut out for them now onward though.

Anyway, Trump’s presidency was wrought with missteps, misquotes, misdeeds, mistakes, and even a certain miss stormy. Yeah, sue me!  

And with more misses than hits, he had to run for re-election amidst a ravaging pandemic. His no-holds-barred campaigns inundated the media, and his rallies were as Trump-ian as ever.

While the campaign efforts hit home with his eager base; it also laid bare all his shortcomings, failures and incompetence for the rest of the population. Ultimately accelerating his downfall.

So here’s the takeaway:

Although promoting a bad product can get you initial results; disregarding ethics, competence and good service will eat into your market share and gift it to the competition.

Heck, even Coke, McDonald’s and Microsoft – some of the world’s biggest and instantly recognisable brands – tried to aggressively market bad products and failed miserably.

The key here is to make sure your product or service can live up to expectations – and even better if you manage to exceed them.

A very fundamental marketing premise – but goes to show that even election campaign managers and household brands sometime tend to ignore the basics.

But if you still insist on taking a bad or flawed product to market – I know someone who will be out of a job soon. You guys can meet over a Trump Steak lunch.

Why So Emo, Copywriter?

You know, as a copywriter I have always felt that my profession very much resembles our day-to-day, emotion-filled lives.

I mean, the copywriting art of creating intent and thereafter convincing is certainly a skill that is needed in everyday life.

This starts very early in our lives, and right up to our senior years. Some examples:

Asking our parents to let us stay up a little longer
Convincing our siblings that there’s a monster under the bed
Influencing the teacher that it’s the other kid’s fault
Telling your friend that it’s cool to smoke this
Sweet-talk a girl/guy to go out with you
Get an employer to hire you
Persuade the bank that you’re good for it
Warning your kids not to stay up a little longer
Making your kids to get to the bed before the monster does

And these are just broadstrokes. There are countless little acts of convincing that needs to happen every single days of our lives – be it with ourselves or others – to have some semblance of being a functioning human being.

Just like convincing people to purchase, we don’t always get our way. There are failures and rejections to contend with – and most of the time it depends on the emotional connection with other person.

Emotions matter, because we want the recipient to be in a trusting, comfortable and accepting mood if we were to have any success.

Emotional Copywriter
Make the right emotional connection, or it’s eggs on your face!

Think about the last time you willingly agreed to do something.

Let’s say for instance you were asked to dine in a place that you know is average, yet overpriced. But you still agreed.

Did you feel compelled to say yes because you’re such a nice person? Or was it because you were emotionally invested to the person making the request?

Like if my wife asked me to do something I don’t really want to do (don’t get any funny ideas), I’d still probably do it – that’s being emotionally invested, and also so I can earn extra brownie points.

Apparently, being emotionally invested makes you less critical and objectively observant. Love is the greatest emotional investment – think about all the things you did for family, good friends and loved ones… it probably didn’t take too much convincing.

Buying gifts for your nearest and dearest is an emotion-filled task as well, where budget or inconvenience are not prime concerns.

But what if there is no emotional connection, as with life’s other activities? As a copywriter, convincing strangers to purchase a product or service is often devoid of any emotion.

Perhaps chemistry has the answer.

You see, there are a few chemicals we can try to trigger – in our intended targets’ brains – that can alter their emotional state to be more, well, ‘receptive’.

Be it from a copywriter or a salesperson, inducing these chemicals can be the difference between ignoring the message or taking action.

  1. Dopamine
    Improves focus, motivation and memory with an all-round, feel-good factor. Induced by building suspense and leaving things to the imagination with a cliff-hanger. Think teaser ad campaigns and movie trailers as real-world examples. Good e-Mail marketers also use this strategy – where a potent, well-crafted prose leads to a video or landing page. 
  1. Oxytocin
    Builds trust, nurtures generosity and improved bonding. Induced by weaving empathy into the storyline. Those UNICEF, WWF or SPCA campaigns usually take this route, to get you feeling all warm and fuzzy, making you more willing to donate. 
  1. Endorphin
    Makes people laugh and automatically puts them in a good, open and comfortable mood. Think ice-breakers in client presentations or a funny quote to start an e-Mail copy. This funny business is a bit mischievous though, use sparingly or you will end up looking not-so-credible. Great for memes, but not always for marketing communications.

So the next time you encounter a marketing content that spoke to your soul – be it a sponsored post, blog article or video – it’s probably one of the chemicals above at work.

And possibly thanks to a copywriter going all emo to make that soul-warming connection.

The key ideas for this post was based on a TedTalk by David JP Phillips on the science of storytelling. Pretty interesting if you’re into that kind of stuff.

Marketing Automation Fail

Have you guys encountered the talking parking fee machine?

You know, the one that keeps repeating the obvious to oblivion.

“Please insert your parking card”

“Please pay your fee by cash or coin”

“Press the receipt button if you require a receipt”

“I have been programmed to say this until a pandemic wipes out all of humanity, which is currently in progress”

“Please insert…”

Yeah that damn parking machine! Now you remember. I do have two baseball bats, I’m game… let me know when.

So that’s automation in its extremely basic form. Automated to guide or in most cases annoy the crap out of you.

And for a very long time that machine was at the top of my personal automation fail list. Why I have such a list is none of your concern.

And then one fine day this happened.

Lazada 1 Sen Coupon
So thrilled to receive a value that’s not even in circulation anymore. Rare indeed!

Lazada has become a behemoth in online retail these days, and I have been an occasional customer for many years. As with all customer-conscious, competition-wary online marketplaces, Lazada decides to reward me for loyalty with a wallet-busting sum of 1 Sen.

Talk about making it rain!

Now I’ll be fair, the intention was laudable. In fact, I’ve received better valued coupons from Lazada before. Like 2, 3 or 5 Ringgits that didn’t make me feel like a complete broke-ass loser.

And that’s what you want a loyal customer to feel, like they’re getting extra value once in a while.

But this was just bordering on insulting, as unintentional it was, is still was insulting. They might as well just click-bait me and tell me I have RM1 million in credit waiting, and then make me enter a contest that I will never win.

Which I think they have done, oh never mind.

So my take is that this is not an intention fail, but an automation fail. While the talking parking fee machine is mainly just annoying, this automated 1 Sen coupon is marketing automation gone awry.

You see, this coupon was issued probably because I hadn’t bought anything for a few months. And so, an algorithm calculated my previous spends and decided that MYR0.01 was the best amount to convince me to return and go cart crazy.

All fair and good. The only part that they completely missed is setting some rules for the algorithm, just a bit of filtering that doesn’t allow anything less than 1 ringgit to be issued as coupons for example.

Educate Your Automation

While we surely can’t expect someone to review all coupons issued, there surely must be some checks and balances built-in to educate the automation and avoid making a mockery of customers. Because we all know how important it is to maintain customer loyalty, I mean just look at these stats by AnnexCloud, a prominent customer marketing platform:

  • The chances of converting a new customer are just 15-20% compared to 60-70% with existing customers
  • Acquiring a new customer can cost up to 16 times more than retaining existing customers
  • Up to 80% of future profits will potentially come from just 20% of existing customers
  • 46% of customers will potentially increase business with a company for offering loyalty rewards – anything more than 1 sen will be encouraged
  • Existing customers can contribute up to 65% of a company business, whereas only 35% comes from new customers

As a copywriter who has been involved in direct marketing and loyalty programmes from the time of print ad coupons and SMS vouchers, let me tell you this:

Reward appropriately and often to build a loyal, consistent customer base.

So Lazada got it right, until they didn’t. And often, all it takes is one misstep to undo years of trust and relationship building.

Maybe I should send Lazada a physical 1 Sen coin as a token of my appreciation for bestowing a content idea for this blog.

They can use it for the talking parking fee machine I suppose. And it wouldn’t even be accepted. Tough luck!

What the Tech!

You know, I started in the advertising business as a copywriter in 1998 – that was my first job fresh out of college.

I graduated right smack in the middle of the Asian Financial Crisis and jobs were few and far in between. Out of sheer persistence and a hefty dose of luck, I landed a job as a copywriter for a small independent advertising agency.

I remember having to work without a computer, perhaps it was deemed unnecessary for me although I was the only writer in the agency at that time. I wrote copy by hand on A4 pieces of paper, and once approved, personally keyed directly into the layout on the designers’ gleaming Macs. Yeah, thug life.

This was a time before spell check and autocorrect, which meant I carried around an Oxford dictionary and thesaurus like how one would carry a smart phone now.

Research was with whatever printed journals and publications I could get my hands on. Doing some ‘internet’ research meant I had to wait for an open Mac, which usually happens when the designers were out for lunch.

There was no Google – actually there was but it was pretty crappy then. Yahoo! and Alta Vista were all the rage. Files were transferred using 1.44MB floppy disks, I know, cutting-edge shit. Purchasing stock images meant browsing a printed catalogue, placing the order via fax and someone would physically deliver the hi-res image on a disk a day or two later.

Floppy Tech
Tech can make your content flop

I could go on, but you get the gist, right?

The business of advertising back then was very analog, time-consuming and painstaking. The studio – where we creatives work – was a wonderous world where a lot of effort would go into creating a piece of marketing communication. It was hard, often manual, brain-crunching work – yet very fulfilling.

Then technology happened. Now, just one person can ideate, conceptualise, write, design and disseminate a piece of communication. What took weeks with a team of 5 back then can probably be done in hours today – we’ll leave the quality out of the equation for today yeah.

The entire process has been condensed and simplified – with apps, websites and software. But has it become simple for a person to multitask and create a well-crafted piece of marketing communication? Not by a long shot.

The overload in technology has resulted in overload of communication channels, which has resulted in overloading marketing plans with strategies to cover the constantly evolving and growing list of media must-haves.

It used to be just a website and Facebook page. Now, a marketer must think about separate strategies for Instagram, TikTok, Linked-In, Pinterest, YouTube Channel and every other social media trend to reach a fickle, devoid-of-attention and triggered audience.

And a lot of so-called digital agencies are churning out the same garbage churned for one channel and ramming them down disinterested audiences across other channels, including social media. All this is being done with blatant disregard for suitability of the media for the brand or business, or at the very least proper versioning and tweaking of the message.

Just content after mindless content generated for the sake of adhering to the marketing calendar. It has truly become a cesspool of words, images and videos that hardly means anything nor compels any kind of response.

Digital Evolution

Look, I for one am overwhelmed as well with the volatility, dynamics and continuous mutation of the marketing communication landscape. And there’s no sign of stopping really with AI and VR set to hit the marketing mainstream next.

But having been in the industry for over 2 decades and experienced its progression, I can tell you that the fundamentals are still the same. Strategies may differ and tactics will need to be upgraded to the times, but essentially its all about compelling content that generates leads and thereafter converts to a purchase.

Essentially, it’s about the idea and the objective first, and then take advantage of the type of media that can generate the most results. It’s not just about getting likes or comments or shares – if it doesn’t convert, its just more marketing Ringgit down the loo.

Marketing work during my rookie years was a multi-step, multi-person process, all thoughtfully crafted to the end objective of eliciting response. That seems to still be the idea these days, but technology – be it in terms of marketing tools or the media itself – has not made anything simpler.

So take a step back and look at the big picture as you ideate and strategise. The tech is just to enable, and is not the idea itself.