20 July 2018 Business News in Brief PR Musings Trends

Trump and Brand Controversialsm

Love him or loathe him, Trump has consistently held the front pages of Europe’s biggest media outlets over the past week with his unpolitical comments and general lack of social etiquette. Europe’s political pains aside, watching Trump in action on Brexit, on Russia and even on our much loved Royal Family, is a little like watching a car crash. As it unfolds in front of you, you are drawn to it, reeling and horrified from the affront – can he really be that arrogant? Surely not? He may not be winning hearts and minds, but he sure is getting attention. Let’s take a look at Trump and brand controversialsm.

Far from the occasional gaffe, Trump’s brand of arrogance has been carefully crafted. It’s even been given its own label – controversialism. Yet, it’s not unique to the leader of the free world. It’s lesson no.1 in the PR manual for start-ups and a proven way to get noticed, just look at Uber. By carefully causing outrage, the subject is attracting attention and managing the message. Maybe Trump doesn’t need to get noticed but he does need to communicate to voters and his America First controversialism is doing just that.

America First is not just a pledge, it’s a position. Everything Trump says puts his national responsibility before his global position. As he speaks, he puts down indecision, confronts his enemies and demonstrates a disregard for non-US institutions. You could say that he’s pretty clear on his brand.

What’s interesting is that Trump could be playing his part in a zeitgeist of controversialism, as brands take up political causes and social fights through their PR and marketing. Some of the world’s largest and most influential brands are taking often brutal positions on a range of socio-political issues.

Over the past year, a growing number of brands are using a political cause or social purpose to boost their brand currency. As part of its long-running ‘Open Your World’ platform, Heineken’s Take the World’s Apart ad put together two strangers divided by their beliefs – a feminist with an anti-feminist, and a climate change activist with someone who thinks it is “piffle”. Through the debate, Heineken was positioning itself as the facilitator of openness in a time when empathy is under threat.

Or take Jigsaw’s ‘Love Immigration’ campaign, in which the fashion brand took a stand on hate crime, by showing that without diversity, its products wouldn’t be made.

In this age of social media, and in an attempt to galvanise customers on social platforms, brands are adopting the “angry from Ashford” approach to branding. By polarising issues, they can use the backlash to hijack the media and get attention. But there is an art to creating genuine controversy, and perhaps brands should look behind the anger and affront of Trump’s misplaced words and ugly gestures, to see a Master of brand controversialism in action.

Written by Rebecca Oatley, Managing Director and Owner, Cherish PR 

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