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.

A Breath of Fresh Ads

What happens when you invite a bunch of people, let them sample your product and allow them to speak their mind? Let’s see…

This month marks my third year as a fulltime freelance copywriter. And if you add the 13 odd years I was an agency-employed copywriter, you can say I’ve seen many groundbreaking campaigns.

From the era of experiential marketing and digital 2.0 to current industry buzzwords such as disruptive marketing and hashtag-strategies; the ad game has evolved to the point of mutation.

But no matter what you do, people will continue to form their own opinions – be it positive or otherwise – about a product or service.

The blind ‘taste test’ for Laphroaig (don’t ask me how to pronounce it) reveals an important aspect of consumer behaviour.

They prefer to think for themselves.

We as advertisers can only mould consumers to think a certain way via a concept, proposition or message. But often have no control of how they might interpret our messaging or imagery.

In the case of Laphroaig, they embraced the opinions of their focus group – made up of people who may or may not have consumed the product previously – and went on to create print ads without filtering even the negative comments.

Laphroaig Ad Hospital
How would a burning hospital taste anyway? Intrigued I am...
Laphroaig Ad Kerosene
Yes, this is a real ad. I did not make it up...

Now, that took some balls.

Granted the product is an intoxicating beverage and there is a certain degree of creative freedom afforded.

But come on… ‘tastes like burning hospital’ as part of a headline? You got to give the people at Laphroaig some props. There are more versions of the print campaign actually, which I urge you to check out.

And the best part, the agency’s copywriter didn’t even have to think of a catchy, punchy and juicy headline; the consumers did it.

Now I want to do a focus group-inspired campaign too… anyone?

Fluff is Out

Copywriting is the business of misleading people to buy things they don’t need with the money they don’t have.

Well it’s not that we copywriters tell outright lies to convince people. Sometimes it’s just about too much fluff.

While most of my clients these days understand that effective communication involves a clear, concise message with a touch of personal warmth, I do get enquiries to work on the old ‘catchy-punchy-juicy’ stuff.

If it ain't marshmallow, go easy on the fluff

I tend to steer clear from these kinds of requests because, well, the fluff isn’t all that convincing. We’re dealing with young, smart consumers whom are becoming increasingly averse to marketing speak and vague catchphrases.

We’ve all seen those websites, brochures, corporate profiles or even mail drops that are full of meaningless superlatives, mindless ramblings and generic ‘industry’ word play. That’s either a sign of a novice copywriter or a client unwilling to adapt to evolving consumer mindset.

Consumers just want you to tell it as it is so they can then decide whether to do business with you. Besides, none of us want to nor have the time to make sense of  textual mumbo jumbo.

If you still want to take the fluffy route, beware of these pitfalls:

Can you deliver as promised?
Fluff raises consumer expectations, and they expect you to deliver as fluffed. Can you?

Bye-bye repeat business
Once fluffed, twice shy. When all that fluff falls flat, the customer goes to your competitor.

Risk of attracting negativity
We live in a very social world. One disgruntled customer can start a negative crusade against your business.

Even if telling it as it is goes against convention, your product or service can still shine through and appeal to your intended target audience. A case in point is a company in Wisconsin, USA that tells the absolute truth, even it may result in some consumers not buying their product.


Ahhh… I wish I wrote that.

The Name Game

Yes, I admit it. The thing that I dislike most about my profession as a copywriter is coming up with names.

For me, names are personal. Think about it this way, would you ask another person to name your newborn baby?

You created it, you name it. And I believe the same analogy should apply to companies, products and brands as well. The person who created them should be the ones naming them.

I'll make you a deal, lunch on me for the person who comes up with the best name for this... errr... juice...

Indeed, we copywriters can help name your product or service. But there will always be a sense of disconnect when we – a third party – attempt to create a name for something that holds many intrinsic values.

I always suggest to my clients to give naming a shot. And sometimes they find it very difficult, even when they themselves have incepted the product or service. So you can imagine how difficult it would be for me?

However, nothing is easy. So here are 5 key considerations to naming that might help:

1. Sensory Appeal
Ideally, a name should be able to activate any one, or better yet all five senses. A name that people can see, smell, taste, feel or hear subconsciously creates a sensory experience that’s memorable. A brand name like Apple activates all senses.

2. Service is Serious
The game changes slightly when it comes to naming a service though. People expect services to be credible, trustworthy and professional, and a name should reflect these qualities. Don’t ask me how.

3. Be Uncommon
Habituation is a human trait where we are desensitised by all the common things around us. You name needs to rise above the clutter or people will tune-out. Do you really want to be another ‘Pro-something’ or Expert-something’ or ‘something-Solutions’?

4. Break It Down
Break any names that you come up with into syllabuses. Read out aloud every syllabus to make sure nothing sounds unsavoury. This is especially useful in Malaysia, where multiple languages are spoken. I once saw a Bengkel Tah Yik… seriously!

5. Domain-friendly
These days, securing the URL you want can be a real pain. So make sure your name list is domain checked as early as possible because you will surely need to have a website. Sites like is worth a try too.

If all else fails, do what I did. I just used my name for my business. It may not be the most ideal name, but it’s a true reflection of me.

Sleep More, Consume Less

There’s a reason why your mum always told you not to stay up late. Because the longer you stay awake, the more money you’re going to spend by being a consumer.

Remember Citibank’s “The City Never Sleeps” tagline? It suggests that Citibank will serve its cardholders round-the-clock. But that’s not all. It also says why sleep when you can stay up and do all sorts of fun things with your credit card all night long. It made not sleeping cool, and getting into debt hip.

Sleepy Dude
Skip the RedBull and get some sleep, dude!

Even new products – like RedBull – were introduced to cash-in on the Sleep-Less phenomenon that swept across the cities of the world. Now there are probably hundreds of sleep-depriving. caffeine-loaded  drinks that are discreetly labelled as ‘energy drinks’.

The recreating, eating, shopping, partying and what-have-you till the wee hours of the morning presented businesses with a goldmine. The less we consumers sleep, the more money businesses make.

So it this just a case of businesses meeting consumer demands or is your friendly neighbourhood 24-hour mamak stall taking advantage of your insomnia?

Fine, we all could do with a midnight snack once in a while. But what about 24-hour gyms? Are people seriously pumping iron at 4 in the morning? Lately, hypermarkets have started extending their operation hours to 1am. Do we really have that urgent of a need for potato bread at that hour?

And that’s why they say “don’t sleep on it”, because if you do, then you are going to miss out of the bargain, deal or offer.

Sleeping consumers are no good because they not only can’t be sold to, but also can’t be advertised to.

But I’d rather my consumer have a good night’s sleep so that I am not selling to a groggy, sleep-deprived person with an attention span of a wasp.

So go to sleep guys and wake up refreshed to another day of buying or selling; whichever it is that you do.

When In Rome, Screw The Romans

When it comes to marketing, doing what everyone else is doing is a recipe for disaster. So screw what everyone else is doing if you want to stand out from all the monotonous clutter out there.

Yes, granted, sometimes copycat marketing works. But doing so will only get you a share of an existing pie but will not make you your own pie. If you’re saying what your competitors are already saying, then you are just another business saying the same old shit in the eyes of the consumer.  There’s no strong reason for consumers to buy from you, and only you.

The Colloseum Still Stands
Copycat marketing is as old and battered as the Roman Colosseum

It’s quite common where something printed, that was on air or seen online is made as a basis for drafting your own communications. I mean it is okay to emulate, but never imitate. A few examples:

1. If you’re selling energy drinks: instead of saying “gives you energy” say “makes others lazy”

2. If you’re selling cars: instead of saying “travel in comfort” say “it’s like you never left home”

3. If you’re selling pizzas: instead of saying “the best-tasting pizza” say “tastes like a real pizza”

4. If you’re selling beers: instead  of saying “refreshing, satisfying brew” say “never satisfying, if you stop at one”

5. If you’re selling handmade cookies: instead of saying “handmade every step of the way” say “machine-hating cookies”

Let’s face it. If you’re selling something, chances are someone else is selling pretty much the same thing too. Anything opposite of what your competitor is saying, something that evokes a little curiosity or perhaps adds on to what is already being said is good to go.

All the better if your product has that one Unique Selling Proposition (USP) that none of your competitors can’t live up to. But that’s a product issue, which goes to reiterate the fact that even the best marketing can’t sell a lousy product.

And don’t be afraid to change up when it’s not working; at least you won’t be called a failed copycat.

I think I Can

“I’ll quit drinking the day they sell whisky in a can!”. Nop, I didn’t say that. I just wish someone I knew had because I would want to give him or her an application for Alcoholics Anonymous.

Whisky in a can: genius or gross?

Presenting the little whisky that said I think I can. And into a can it went thanks to a Panama-based company which came up with this brilliant idea. Here are some quick facts, according to the makers:

• Outdoor drinkers would prefer to crack open a tin rather than lug a bottle. Errmmm… outdoor drinkers where art thou?

• The company retains an office in Glasgow, Scotland; but the stuff is made in Panama. Hey it’s like Apple’s “Designed in California, Assembled in China” tag… real classy!

• The can is a perfect size to be shared between 3 people who can mix it with other things like cola. Oh-my-gosh… cola! Why didn’t I think of that?

• It’s lightweight and portable and entirely recyclable. Hmmmm… that sounds strangely like the features of bottles too

• It’s going to be a part of every lifestyle and occasion. Did they lift the copy off a Keropok Udang pack? Damn!

Nothing like a vino that came from a box...

Some things are just wrong. But then again who are we to judge? Some dude out there decided to package wine in tetra packs and I don’t see too many people complaining. If this ingenuous packaging works, we could one day find the finest scotches in convenient 325ml cans.

Now I wonder if the beer boys will contemplate packaging in plastic sachets just to show they can be innovative too. But just kill me before that happens.


Subconscious Advertising

You know why, after all these years, some advertising don’t change?

A smiling family promotes a Home Loan as the camera swoops over a mesmerizing lakefront property.

A frowning, headache-afflicted executive on his office desk reaching for a bottle of Cure-all Pills. He is instantly relieved in the next scene.

A couple eagerly downs a can of Soft Drink, for a slight moment savours the beverage and finally gives it the thumbs up.

The Subconscious Is a Dirty Little Fellow
The Subconscious is in here somewhere...

These are all very clichéd visuals or concepts, but you still see them more often than you would want to.  And you will continue to see them for as long as humans rule the earth. Why?

While our learned mind may dismiss these visuals as childish, unbelievable and overdone, there’s another part of our brain that’s intently taking note. It’s the part of the brain that always has an open channel to the outside world. It never filters, it doesn’t judge and neither does it rationalise. You can’t control it nor turn it off. And this is your subconscious.

Your subconscious is smart (yes, it’s smarter than you). While it may find everything entertaining, its convincing skills are subtle and eloquent. It never makes direct references nor employs hard-sell tactics. It taps into your deep emotional needs and gently places hints so as to help influence your future decisions.

The subconscious is not being a jerk by trying to convince you to buy badly advertised products. It’s just being itself, or being human to be precise. We all have needs throughout our lives and we all want it to be fulfilled. So the subconscious constantly sifts through its memory banks and suggests things that may satisfy our needs.

This was why tobacco advertising was so effective back in the day. They knew they had a product that killed people, so they used healthy, good-looking and most importantly happy people in their ads. Visuals of beautiful people looking content and relaxed were enough to ‘sell’ cigarettes, despite smokers being aware of the well-known ill effects of smoking. They got their cravings satisfied and the added bonus of assurance that they look cool, happy and content.

Remember that time that you bought something and then realised you hated the product’s ad? Well, now you know it’s no accident.