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Political marketing gone wrong – Lesson for SL

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We have seen the world going crazy on some of the decisions that have been taken by the most powerful seat in the world – the President of the United States. Starting from the initial travel ban decision that created an uproar from the Muslim community states, which was finally blocked by the US Court, the next was the executive decision to move out of the Transpacific Partnership Trade (TPP) agreement for which 12 countries of the world had come together to make the world one in trade. Even top agency WTO, which advocates the spirit of free trade globally, found that its hands were tied. 

Then came the bombshell last week where the United States decided to move out of the core treaty on environment protection – The Paris Climate Change Agreement, which was the tipping point against Donald Trump. His job disapproval ratings have crossed 58% whilst the world’s reaction to brand Donald Trump has also turned sour. 

The Chairman of Bloomberg came out and pledged $15 million to the Paris Climate deal after the money was taken out by President Trump. Some predict the President is heading towards impeachment. By the way this has happened only twice in the history of the US. 

16-3Trump is on track to be one of the most controversial presidents of the US


The real loser – Marketing 

Whilst the future may be unknown on the controversial US President, to my mind the loser is not tourism, trade or climate change but the discipline marketing. At the end of the day it was a cutting-edge marketing campaign driven by digital marketing that tilted brand Trump to the position architectured by his son-in-law David Krushner.

If I may go back to basics, marketing can be defined as a process by which one identifies what a customer wants and thereafter develops a solution to meet this requirement better than competitors but in a socially-responsible manner.

In the case of politics, the customer is the voter whilst the solution provider is the politician. A typical political candidate who can effectively communicate how the attributes wanted by the mass can be addressed better with their overall solution will garner the support to be voted in at an election. This is the promise by which Donald Trump came in. I would go a step further and state ‘marketing’ helps introduce democracy to a system. Let me explain. 

Marketing – Introduce democracy?

Marketing brings to a system democracy for two reasons. The first being that the product/service that is offered by a candidate must communicated effectively so that the consumer is better informed on who best fits their requirement. The second being that unless the requirements are delivered during the period of time one is in power, the approval ratings drop and in fact one can get thrown out of the job which is the direction that brand Donald Trump is heading unfortunately.

US election?

The problem that has emerged from the US elections are twofold. The first is whether it was a free and fair election as currently the whole administration is being questioned on the involvement of Russia on rigging the outcome. The second being the performance of the brand selected – Donald Trump is not in line with the expectations. 

On the latter, Trump’s rating has dropped to a negative 20-point differential between those who approve and disapprove of him. Only a marginal 36% approve of his performance as president, while 58% are not in favour. Two other tracking polls similar to Gallop16-Rohantha carried out by Rasmussen show similar results which indicate the data is valid.  Brand Trump’s approval and favourability are already historically low at this point in his presidency and one of lowest in the first 100 days of office which means the product is not meeting the majority of customers’ needs. A point to note is that this is totally different to the performance of brand Obama.

Fitch report – Trump?

A Fitch report indicates that Donald Trump’s presidency poses a risk not only to the US but to the global economy. Trump’s unpredictability, his administration’s aggressive tone and his break with established “norms” in international relations are the main threats to the global economy. 

It is sad given that normally US policy has earned respect for predictability over the years and is now diminished with executive orders like exiting TPP with just a stroke of a pen; when the world is crying for the environment, Donald Trump takes a U-turn and aborts the respected Paris Climate deal. In his home base the very initiative that attracts tourism and FDI into the country, Brand USA has not been included in the national budget. 

Trump advisors wrong? 

The truth has not come out as yet but some argue that the poor advice from the specialists from Washington is behind the downfall of brand Trump. But the President does not listen to anyone›s advice. For instance the travel ban declaration on five nationalities goes against the core of travel and tourism which is about building bridges between people and cultures, fosters understanding across religious and geographic boundaries, and generates more peaceful coexistence. The industry nets in 24% to GDP of the 19.2 trillion dollar economy of the US. 

Latest research reveals that tourism in the United States has dropped 11% since October 2016, according to a new study outlined by Foursquare’s CEO Jeff Glueck. The company used real-time data to track about 13 million of its users. Results showed that California was hit the hardest by the tourism decline. Los Angeles and San Diego are the two cities impacted the most by the drop, according to the study which a business mind like Trump should note.

16-2Brand Trump clearly has failed to meet customer requirements 


Case in point: Brand USA out?

An issue that is simmering on the tourism front is Trump›s decision not to include funding for Brand USA, which was initiated by former President Obama way back in 2011. What Trump and his advisors failed to understand was that Brand USA was an outstanding performer from an ROI standpoint and one of the most successful public-private partnerships the world has seen. In fact many tourism promotion agencies globally are using this as a best practice.

Brand USA President and CEO Chris Thompson post Trump scratching Brand USA marketing funds from the budget announced to world the impact from the last four years Brand USA’s marketing campaign:


  • Four million plus incremental (additional) visitors to the US, who might not have visited otherwise;

  • $ 14 billion in incremental (additional) visitor spending;

  • 51,000 additional American jobs per year; 

  • $ 4 billion plus in federal, state and local tax revenue, helping fund vital services like fire departments and public schools.

Trump also failed to understand the Brand USA workings such as $10 from each $14 Electronic System for Travel Authorisation (ESTA) fee paid by visitors from Visa Waiver Program countries, which are matched by private sector contributions. In return, every $1 Brand USA spent on marketing generated $27 to the US economy. This clearly shows how way off Donald Trump is even with his private sector business savvy mind that was highlighted by opinion leaders.

 Implications for Sri Lanka

1.Whilst being receptive to marketing techniques during elections it›s important to understand if the candidate marketed has the ability of delivering promises made, meaning bad products can also be marketed well to be purchased. Sri Lanka must make sure it does not fall into this trap in the future. A classic example is the Yahapalana ethos of a corrupt-free Sri Lanka that was promised and many gave a vote for it, but it has virtually come to a standstill. Some argue that the current Government is more corrupt than the previous regime. If an approval rating similar to the US is done, opinion leaders speculate the approval ratings will mirror the Trump administration results.

2.The second implication is that given the turbulence in many economies globally masses tend to vote for radical change. This is what happened in the US. Sri Lanka must not replicate this same behaviour in future elections. We must select a candidate who has the political maturity and experience of managing the local and global economy and not just business skills. This is exactly what has happened to the US. Trump may be a successful businessman but he has neither the experience nor the maturity required in managing an economy or to sit in the most powerful seat in the world. Hence we see the chaos created.


(The writer is an alumnus of Harvard Kennedy School and has served three presidents and governments on the area of trade and economic policy making. The views expressed are strictly personal in nature.)

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