What’s in a Basket of Deplorables? An Ad Guy Explains

I wrote a few weeks ago on why negative advertising is so effective in politics but is much more rarely used in consumer brand advertising. But what about basket of deplorables? It seems a lot different. It’s also been compared to Mitt’s 47% comment. But that’s the politics side of it which I’m not writing about here. So let’s talk about the strategic messaging side of this.

In social media and some pundits have tried to defend this statement saying it’s true. From an ad guy’s perspective. It doesn’t matter if it’s true or not. It’s the message being sent that counts.

For some reason, Hillary has decided to separate her brand from the hoi-poli. It’s really very different from where we’ve seen the Democratic Party in the past century. They’ve been allied with working families and more recently minorities. They’ve also called out the Republican’s as elitist. Some of you probably think I’m jumping to conclusions here and thinking that’s not what she’s doing at all.

Leave your biases for a minute and let’s just look at the media buy; who was receiving the message. It cost a person $1,250 to $250,000 to listen to Hillary’s message at a Barbara Streisand fundraiser for the LGBT community. This, we’d consider in advertising as a luxury consumer. Like everyone, they want things that help them feel special. But they can actually afford them. This group is well educated, well read, well travelled, they have a lot of discretionary spending and can do what they want when they want. Not only do they think they have a better life than most, they really do.

In that context, here’s the offending quote:

“You know, to just be grossly generalistic, you could put half of Trump’s supporters into what I call the basket of deplorables. Right? [Laughter/applause]. The racist, sexist, homophobic, xenophobic, Islamophobic — you name it. And unfortunately there are people like that. And he has lifted them up. He has given voice to their websites that used to only have 11,000 people, now have 11 million. He tweets and retweets offensive, hateful, mean-spirited rhetoric. Now some of those folks, they are irredeemable, but thankfully they are not America.”

Hillary’s delivery of this remark was as if she’s speaking to a friend and trying to relate to her audience. Leaving out the specifics, the message of what she’s saying is: I know you feel better than the other guy’s team. And we are better. You can feel righteous when you give me money and to organizations on our side because we’re better than them.

Again, don’t get caught up in the specifics because that’s not the point of what she’s saying. The point is: I’m the brand for elite, smart, well educated people like you. Only crass, uneducated, and stupid people would identify with the other brand.

Well, how successful has this kind of campaign been in the past. Much more elegantly executed, it’s been surprisingly successful for challenger brands. Before the launch of the iPhone, a product that revolutionized the whole industry, Apple was a true challenger brand and had a small percentage of the personal computer market. They positioned their product as the one for hip, smart people not dumb, behind the times, geeks.

This campaign featured a likeable John Hodgman as PC and Justin Long as Mac and ran from May 2006 to October 2009. Apple by 2010 was no longer the challenger brand anymore and especially among millennials, being thought of as the big corporate company. Since then, Apple has transitioned to a more market leader strategy.

Another campaign that positioned against customers of other brands as being “stupid” is from perennial challenger brand, Sprint. Of course, they were smart and didn’t make fun of average people but rich folks. Still, the campaign didn’t last. Probably because people don’t like being told they’re stupid if they had a phone contract with a competitor.

A better way to execute the challenger brand, intellectual elitist, angle was done by Subaru and their agency Carmichael Lynch with an ad called “Things Smart People Buy.” They’re not saying that Chevys are for dummies but that dummies aren’t buying Subarus. The negative was left unspoken.

So clearly Hillary has aligned herself with the smart people against the dumb people. That’s smart right? Everyone wants to feel smart so people will gravitate to the smart people’s brand. Sure, she may win a few people that way as I’m sure Subaru did. I’m sure there’s a lot of crossover (pun intended) between the two brands.

Unfortunately, I’ve not seen this smart people’s brand positioning work well for a category leader, ever. Especially in a category of two major players. Imagine Nikon coming out with a campaign that everyone who buys a Canon must be a hillbilly. Or Ford with a campaign that says on high school dropouts would buy a Chevy. Her position is half the followers of the other brand aren’t even worthy. Subaru, as a challenger brand with say 3.4% market share in 2015 you can afford to offend 25% of the market and be OK. Hillary cannot. With Donald Trump now in the lead, she needs some of his voters.

I hear everyone saying “but, but, but Donald Trump is offensive.” Yes, he said a lot of borish stuff in up until the convention and even for a few more weeks. But Trump has changed his rhetoric now that the masses are starting to pay better attention. Also, he’s been very careful not to attack average American citizens. He’s reserved most of his attacks for criminal Mexicans (not latinos), illegal immigrants and muslim terrorists. He also attacks celebrities like Rosie O’Donnell and Megan Kelly. But women. I hear you and Donald Trump will certainly not win the women’s vote unless something drastic changes which probably had something to do with the reason he unveiled his childcare proposal with the help of his daughter.

All this negativity is likely to continue. Trump will continue to get more selective in his attacks and Hillary will likely get more incendiary. Grab some popcorn and enjoy the show.

Disclaimer: I will be voting third party as neither candidate represents my beliefs. I endorse  neither major candidate or party. 

Posted on: September 15, 2016, by :