How Trumps Grow

Trump’s recent accession has left many in our industry wondering how on earth someone with such extreme, irrational, and exclusionary views could gain the support necessary to become a legitimate presidential candidate. There are many theories, some more plausible than others, but there is also some well proven marketing science that can help explain his rise.

The foundational rule of many contemporary laws in marketing science is that you must disproportionately increase your Share Of Voice over your Share of Market in order to gain brand growth. The below graph illustrates how this law works:

To prove this law, Nielsen conducted a study in which they analyzed 123 brands across 30 different categories. They found that for every 10 “points” a brand had in SOV over SOM that brand would receive an extra 0.5% in market share growth. Therefore a brand with a market share of 20.5% and an excess share of voice of 10 points would grow to 21% market share within a year.

Donald Trump started out his campaign as a relative novice in the political scene and was considered a dark horse in its early stages. From the outset, his share of voice (coverage in the media) was exponentially greater than his share of market (his initial political fanbase). Since Trump’s campaign journey has begun we have seen his market share grow, proving the legitimacy of the SOV law.

Looking at the below graph, you can see a snapshot example of the remarkable levels of earned media that Trump achieved (from March 2016, via New York Times).

Earned media is a particularly useful form of coverage for Trump because it does not target a specific group, nor is it exclusively concentrated on politically focused publications and their audiences. Earned media has a wide network spread, and reaches a large, broad audience. This wide net tactic drives what marketing scientist and statistician Andrew Ehrenberg coined the “Double Jeopardy” rule. The Double Jeopardy rule says that the greater a brand’s penetration, the larger its repeat purchases. This rule also worked for the Trump Brand. His earned media increased his penetration, and by raising the “mental availability” of his brand among the mass of people unfamiliar with his message, Trump was able to increase his saliency. This tactic cemented his familiarity among a wide audience which provided the opportunity to convert followers to his campaign.

You might be wondering how Trump was able to gain that crucial earned media in the first place? The answer lies in another well-proven marketing law. It’s all about the fame.

In The Long and Short of It, Les Binet and Peter Field used over 30 years of IPA Effectiveness Awards data to explore patterns and laws of marketing. One of the highlights of this paper is the study on the effect of fame on campaign performance. Below is a look at how fame campaigns (ones that aim to inspire people to share enthusiasm on and offline) outperformed other campaigns across crucial metrics.

The majority of Donald Trump’s life has been spent in the public spotlight. Between the fame before his political life, and a fame-hungry approach to his political career, Trump has benefited from this rule particular well. Fame was a major driving factor behind his massive earned media which in turn grew his follower base. However, not even the loudest microphone in the world is effective without a resonant voice behind it, and there are marketing laws which show us that the nature of Trump’s messaging is ideal for connecting with an audience and building a brand.

Trump’s rallies are famous for their fervent nature, complete with passioned screams, hollering, and even violence. His messages under his banner of “Make America Great Again” appeal far more to emotion than rational reason, which is exactly the kind of messaging that resonates with audiences.

The behavioral science behind the power of emotional messaging can be explained by Heuristics and System 2 and System 1 thinking. Heuristics is a form of thinking where emotional responses circumnavigate rational thought as the primary driver of behavior. Heuristics was further defined by Nobel Prize winner Daniel Kahneman in his book Thinking Fast and Slow as System 1 and System 2 thinking. This definition was applied to consumer brand decisions in this helpful image from The Long and Short of It:

System 1 thinking is driven by emotions and represents how we subconsciously feel about a brand. The reason System 1 thinking is so powerful for brands is that it often overrides our rational (System 2) thinking in order to reduce “cognitive strain” when we make decisions.

The effectiveness of creating an emotional bond through brand campaigns is quite phenomenal, as seen in the graph below of emotional campaign performance over 30 years of IPA Effectiveness Awards:

As you can see emotional campaigns show far stronger results than rational campaigns. Trumps message of “I alone can fix it,” his unfound promises of “destroying” ISIS, and to “Make America Great Again” are all emotionally charged messages designed to evoke passion. They have proven to resonate with a large sector of Americans who feel forgotten after eight years of democratic leadership and under-threat from job-losses and the increasing frequency of terrorist attacks.

Trump’s steep path to popularity is certainly shocking for many, but if we are to look at the science behind effective advertising, his effectiveness should be no more surprising than a John Lewis christmas campaign.


Byron Sharp (2010) — How Brands Grow

Binet & Field (2013) The Long and Short of It, Balancing Short and Long-Term Marketing Strategies, IPA

Field (2015) Selling Creativity Short, Creativity and effectiveness under threat, IPA

Nikki Clarke (2009) Budgeting for the upturn — does share of voice matter, Nielsen

Nicholas Confessore and Karen Yourish (2016) $2 Billion Worth of Free Media for Donald Trump, New York Times

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