Marketing and the American election.

Marketing and the American election.

November 25, 2020

Nov 25, 2020

By Al Ries

Every four years, America elects a new President. In the year 2016, Donald Trump, a Republican, became President after beating Hillary Clinton, a Democrat. In the year 2020, Donald Trump lost the election to Joe Biden, a Democrat.

Why did Donald Trump win in 2016 and lose in 2020? You can answer that question in a single word.


The basic reason for winning or losing a Presidential election in America is the state of the country. When things are going well, the current President wins. When things are going poorly, the current President loses.

And things are going poorly in America. There are more than 100,000 new corona virus cases every day and deaths now total 243,811.

Currently, America has 4 percent of the world’s population, but 20 percent of the virus cases and 23 percent of the virus deaths.)

There are more cases in America every day than there were in China since the first of the year (86,245 cases.)

Total deaths from the virus in America (243,811) are more than 50 times higher than the total deaths in China (4,634.)

In spite of the poor state of the country, President Trump lost the election by less than 3 percent of the votes. 75 million votes for Joe Biden. 71 million votes for Donald Trump.

That doesn’t tell the whole story. The winner is not decided by the number of popular votes. The winner is decided by the number electoral votes.

Each of the 50 states in America has a certain number of electoral votes, depending on its population. Some of the larger states have a high percentage of Democratic voters.

California, for example, is the largest state in America. In the 2020 election, 65 percent of the voters in California voted for Joe Biden. If you are a Republican living in California, why would you bother to vote for Donald Trump. He didn’t have a chance.

That’s one reason California with 12 percent of the population of America, cast only 10 percent of the Presidential votes. Many Republican voters in California probably decided to stay home.

The power of a single idea.

Why did Donald Trump do well when the country was doing so poorly?

You build brands by focusing your entire marketing program on a single idea. BMW became the world’s leading luxury-vehicle brand by focusing on “driving.”

BMW’s slogan: The ultimate driving machine.

Starbucks became the world’s leading coffee chain by focusing on “expensive.” Coffee at Starbucks in America is typically three times as expensive as coffee at other coffee shops. Today, there are more Starbucks coffee shops in America than there are McDonald’s restaurants.

Samsung became the world’s leading smartphone brand by being first to introduce a larger-size phone.

In the year 2011, Samsung marketed a smartphone with a 5.3-inch screen while Apple smartphones had only 3.5-inch screens.

It took Apple three years to catch up to Samsung, but by then it was too late. Since 2012, Samsung has been the world’s leading smartphone brand

Donald Trump won the election in 2016 with the slogan Make America Great Again. 
It appealed to everyone who thought the country could do better. Also, the slogan was memorable because it rhymed. (Make and Great.)

What was Hillary Clinton’s slogan in 2016? Actually, she had three slogans.

(1) I’m with her.

(2) Fighting for us.

(3) Stronger together.

To the average person, none of these slogans meant anything. Unless you have a strong, powerful conceptual idea, you cannot win an election with an opponent that does have one.

What was Joe Biden’s slogan in 2020? Build Back Better.

Although the words are alliterative, they had no real meaning to the average person. What did resonate with the average person was Biden’s claim to do something about the coronavirus problem. That idea should have been the focus of his entire campaign.

The law of duality.

There are many political parties in America, but two of them dominate all the Presidential elections. The Republican party which nominated Donald Trump. And the Democratic party which nominated Joe Biden.

Would a third party which nominated a well-known personality have a chance of winning a Presidential election?

Probably not. In the 58 Presidential elections since the year 1788, no third-party candidate has even won a national election for President.

That’s also what happens in marketing. In the long-term, every category is eventually dominated by two major brands.

On the global market, Coca-Cola and Pepsi-Cola dominate the cola category. Boeing and Airbus dominate the passenger-airplane category.

In the American market, Colgate and Crest dominate the toothpaste category. Home Depot and Lowe’s dominate the home-improvement category. UPS and FedEx dominate the package-delivery category. Costco and Sam’s Club dominate the warehouse-club category.  

Every category starts with dozens of brands. After the introduction of Red Bull, there were more than 1,000 brands of energy drinks launched in America.

But today, two brands (Red Bull and Monster) have 80 percent of the market. In the future, that percentage is likely to increase.

The leading brand is usually the first brand into a new category. Red Bull, for example. But what about the second brand?

The second brand is usually the opposite of the first brand. Red Bull was introduced in 250ml cans. Monster was introduced in 500ml cans.

After the launch of Coca-Cola, there were hundreds of cola brands introduced in America. What made Pepsi-Cola the No.2 brand?

Pepsi-Cola was the opposite of Coca-Cola.  Coca-Cola was marketed in 6.5-oz. bottles. Pepsi-Cola was marketed in 12-oz. bottles.

Why does almost every new category eventually become dominated by two major brands?

If the No.2 brand is the opposite of the leader brand, there is no room in the average consumer’s mind for another brand. If you don’t like the leader brand, you can buy the No.2 brand.

If you don’t like one political party, you can always vote for the other one.

The law of PR.

Who usually wins in a Presidential race? The candidate that gets the most publicity in the media. That’s why in a political campaign it’s important to generate controversy.

Donald Trump did this with the help of So far this year, he has sent more than 10,000 Tweets or Retweets.

This massive number of Tweets has generated an enormous amount of publicity. Mostly negative. But it doesn’t matter. The candidate with the most mentions in the media normally wins.

It didn’t happen this year, although the election was very close. The coronavirus decided the winner, not the two candidates.

The better product doesn’t necessarily win in the marketplace. And the better person doesn’t necessarily win in the political arena.

But what does win, more often than not, is the better marketing strategy.