The Making of a President – Breaking Down the Branding Behind #Election2016

Topics: Uncategorized, Branding, Public Affairs


Reading Time: 3 minutes

Ask most Americans about presidential nominees, Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump, and words like “trust,” “dislike” and “believe” get tossed around with knee-jerk reactions. With recent studies revealing that candidates’ perceived warmth and confidence weigh in at around 80 percent of the average person’s voting decisions, the stakes behind crafting a likeable president-to-be are high.

Behind these “top of mind” perceptions are teams scrambling to determine policies, messaging, even candidates’ apparel – all of which lend to crafting the brand that Americans will vote into office this November. But how do you create a campaign when you’ve got to cater to virtually everyone?

Here’s what you should know about the strategy behind branding the 2016 presidential candidates.

The Original Plan
Clinton emerged from her 2012 bid for president with a public perception that needed changing. Voters labeled her as cold, programmed and unrelatable, especially in contrast to Barack Obama. Heading into this election she looked to strategists responsible for creating “three dimensional” campaigns for brands like Coca-Cola and Wal-Mart to soften her image and make her an accessible everywoman.

Trump has embraced his brand, one associated with luxury and success. With an estimated net worth of $4.5 billion, he’s used it to propel himself forward, winning the Republican bid with the support of Americans who appreciate his brash candor, and image as a political outsider with a thirst to turn the system upside down.

The Switch
In the past year, both candidates have deviated from their original brand strategy to appeal to larger swathes of the public. After Bernie Sanders ended his bid, Clinton sought to scoop up his supporters when she officially released her platform, transforming from the accessible everywoman into a champion of the middle class.

Now Trump and Clinton are evaluating each other, maneuvering their rhetoric to scoop up party detractors and undecided votes, as was evident in the September debates, when they held the stage with an audience of 84 million. Trump alternated between appearing subdued and fiery, in efforts to attract undecided voters, as well as satisfy ardent supporters. Clinton matched his ardor with quick comebacks, but attempted to balance this strength by appearing personable, especially to female voters. Their approaches even reflected in their choice of apparel, with Trump toning down his usual large red tie with a choice of blue – a color associated with openness, peace and tranquility – and Clinton opting for a red pantsuit – which symbolizes courage and warmth.

The Final Leg
With little more than a month until the November 8th elections, keeping branding on point could prove challenging for both candidates, especially if an October surprise sends plans running awry. With concerns about Trump’s tax returns and Clinton’s emails circulating, the wrong news could force both teams to be in crisis communications mode, drastically changing the navigation on course to winning the 2016 elections

In the meantime, messaging is going to be essential. As usual, the public is going to be heavily inundated with paid advertising on everything from YouTube to billboards. This year social media channels are likely to play a higher role in determining the election outcome than ever before, as candidates seek to directly address voters, specifically the highly desirable but greatly undecided Millennial population. We’ll see if Clinton follows Trump’s example and invests in Snapchat filters. It will also be interesting to follow whether or not Trump continues to Tweet largely unfiltered content, or concedes his account to the careful scrutiny of campaign advisors.

One month and two more debates later, and we’re going to have a new president of the United States. Only the polls will determine which candidate’s brands have manifested America’s vote of confidence.


Did you know that The Abbi Agency has successfully managed a number of public affairs campaigns? Reach out to us and learn about how we can help you take your campaign to the top of the polls.

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