US Insights

To the righteous goes the presidency

Audrey Looker

Vice President, Qualitative

Politics 05.18.2016 / 16:15

White House

Trump, Clinton, and Americans' uniquely strong belief that politicians must have a moral grounding

Cultural codes are invisible triggers within societies, acting upon consumers and influencing behaviors in ways no one can see or imagine. Successful marketers know how to tap into these codes and tailor their global messaging to different audiences based on the unwritten rules within their societies – one only needs to take a look at advertising from Budweiser and Nike in different markets around the world to see a clear focus on cultural understanding.

Uncovering these codes requires deep insight into human behavior, going beyond what people say, and understanding the context and cultural factors influencing decisions and perceptions. TNS Qualitative has analyzed cultural drivers in many countries around the world, and, in doing so, has developed a framework of key codes in each market that brands can use to ensure their local propositions land in a relevant and compelling manner.

Given this is an election year, it is enlightening to look at the leading candidates, Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton, through the lens of the American codes, exploring how they are tailoring their brands to hit on key cultural triggers and ultimately driving success.

According to the TNS framework, to resonate in America, a successful brand (commercial or political) must show Righteous Purpose, Honest Endeavor, Can-Do Optimism, Leave One’s Mark on Society, and Be a Good Buddy. While all of these codes are critical to American culture (and the accomplishments/struggles of Trump and Clinton), Righteous Purpose has shown to be at the core of American society. and serves as an apt illustration of how these codes can be leveraged to influence Americans.

Righteous Purpose. Americans are unique around the globe in the degree to which we believe our politicians must have a moral grounding, a Righteous Purpose. We are a country founded on morality, on fighting for the greater good – quest for religious freedom; equal opportunity for all – and through the centuries, righteousness has underwritten all of our actions. Americans expect our leaders to be pillars of righteousness, and thus judge them across all aspects of their lives – personal and professional. This is also why personal attacks, so successful in American politics, would be a death knell for a campaign in Great Britain, where propriety rules the day.

It is important to note, though, that Americans do not all have the same Righteous Purpose – and in fact, Righteous Purpose differs from one individual to another. The commonality is that we all have a moral drive, and we’re all ready to fight for our way as the “right” way. This absolutism is one of the causes of government gridlock, which ultimately has led to the anger and frustration driving the 2016 election.

Donald Trump may seem to be an unlikely moral figure, but to his supporters, his Righteous Purpose is clear: he’s going to “Make America Great Again.” As a successful businessman, he possesses the know how to negotiate and get things done, and he has positioned himself as a protector of Americans – their jobs, their interest, their ideals. However, his Righteousness is currently undermined (by opponents and to detractors) by his lack of support for all Americans. His comments, which opponents (including Clinton) have painted as divisive, racist, sexist, etc., imply that he only protects those Americans he deems worthy rather than the country as a whole.

Hillary Clinton, on the other hand, is focused on continuing President Obama’s legacy: “we can all rise together.” Though lacking the energy Obama channeled in 2008, this message resonates with many Americans. Her political experience and history of fighting for the underdog have positioned her as a doer (against the idealist Bernie Sanders), but her greatest challenge comes with hits against her morality. Questions of honesty, most notably the email scandal that has surfaced repeatedly throughout the primary, have made her seem untrustworthy to detractors, and Trump has capitalized on this during the campaign so far, through language like “if she is even allowed to run.”

Mastering the codes to land a message. Righteous Purpose, as mentioned, is only one of the resonant codes in America, but marketers need to hit on this, as well as the others, to make an impression upon American consumers. Donald Trump has gained recognition throughout the campaign for being a master marketer, and “The Clinton Machine” is well known for driving political brand success, so both have a deep purpose in everything they say. They are recognizing and leveraging these codes in different ways – and attacking each other on the points that hurt the most.


Source: Kantar TNS

Editor's Notes

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