Moral of the story

It is a remarkable story, with quite a few important lessons for any industry, including oils and fats. Here are a few of my personal favourites.

Style versus substance
Trump was, without doubt, one of the most flamboyant and controversial candidates that US voters have ever seen. His loud confident style (even to the point of appearing arrogant) made him starkly different from the much more reserved Clinton and most previous presidential hopefuls.

But then this contrast is not entirely new. Back in the 1960s, with the US presidential race between John F Kennedy and Richard Nixon, there was a parallel contrast. The flamboyant and outgoing character was Kennedy and the sterner one with the more stilted, think-a-bit-before-speaking style was Nixon.

Flamboyance won the day, with one factor being that people viewed it as a breath of fresh air. They probably don’t remember much about the facts and policies of that election. To a much greater degree, it was about personalities.

There is no doubt that personalities matter in so many areas of branding nowadays. Just a few decades ago, branding had more to do with products and function, but that is changing. A good example would be software. When I went to university in the 1970s, one of the most boring and socially-alienating topics for a young student was code and computer programmes.

But now software companies like Google and Facebook are not only cool and trendy, they are also highly personalised. Everybody knows Mark Zuckerberg, Serge Brin and Larry Page. Not only are they socially acceptable as people, they are treated like rock stars everywhere they go. Along the way, their companies have become bigger than those of manufacturers or oil corporations in terms of market capitalisation.

Label, label, label
A good general rule is that people like labels. Unfortunately, labels are also the cornerstone of prejudice whether we are talking about race, nationality, age, gender or religion. We all know labels are not the nicest thing to apply to a fellow human being and that these are unintelligent, but they still have a timeless appeal to all kinds of people in general and US voters in particular.

After all, we want to simplify our lives, and prejudices save us all that tedious thinking time and mental energy. Trump made the most of this. He used the manoeuvre of labels time and time again. This happened to the degree of Trump becoming something of a master of the ‘belittling moniker’, the likes of which most of us have not heard since leaving school.

There’s a long list of examples, but these are Trump’s most famous and often-quoted ones:

  • Ted Cruz became “Lyin’ Ted”
  • Marco Rubio became “Little Marco” (as if height was ever a key factor)
  • Jeb Bush became “Low Energy” Jeb

Get in first

Following on from the previous point, Trump’s opponents made the classic mistake of becoming inflamed by his silliness and reacting in kind to his somewhat school-boyish tactics. This, as a response tactic can be fatal. Roman historian and senator Tacitus said it well: ‘Abuse, if you slight it will gradually fade away, but if you show yourself irritated you will be thought to have deserved it.’

This hot news is around 2,000 years old, but it has mysteriously not caught on in some circles. Also, it points out a key point: if you are going to react, don’t do it in such a way that shows your irritation (and in some way deserving of it).


Marco Rubio, responded to Trump’s abuse by playing the same game and calling him “Big Donald”, which failed on several counts:

  • Abusing in kind gives credibility to the first salvo. If you’re going to play that game, then you are always going to be playing catch-up. Trump was first.
  • “Big” isn’t exactly an insult.
  • If you’re going to play the ‘silly insults game’, there is one rule: be first. And if you can’t be first, be interesting. Unless you have the withering sarcastic wit of Oscar Wilde, then the message is simple: don’t play in a game where you know you are going to lose!

Jeb Bush managed a similar super-shot to his own foot by countering Trump’s accusation with “Ever ready”. Witty it wasn’t. Forgettable it was.

Play the outsider
A great rule in branding is: people get bored easily, so do something to make yourself look different. This has been the case for centuries, but the pace has accelerated in recent years with the smartphone, Facebook and Twitter. Whether you like it or not, we are now in ‘generation mouse-click’ and boredom sets in quicker each year.

Now this is one area where the oils and fats industry has something in common with politics. Let’s face it, most people would rather be watching TV, chatting with friends or having a nice meal, rather than analysing politicians.


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