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Today, Friday 20th January 2017, is not just Donald Trump’s presidential inauguration. It is not just a day that heralds a seismic change in American, and global, politics. It is also an event that no-one predicted, least all of the advertising industry.

For a long time this sector believed it knew who the American consumer was. They believed they knew what the American public wanted and, how to successfully convey that message to them. But now, with Donald Trump entering the White House, American advertising agencies have quickly realised they haven’t kept up with the change in public mindset that resulted in the most unlikely election result in the history of American politics. 


It is because of this lack of insight, this lack of market intelligence, that Trump’s win came as such a surprise to the majority of the advertising world. It is in stark realisation that advertising agencies now acknowledge that they have been communicating the wrong messages, in the wrong way, to much of the nation – essentially, they haven’t been talking to the people who voted Trump in.

Harris Diamond, CEO of ad agency giant McCann’s, said “so many marketing programs are oriented toward metro elite imagery.” Marketing needs to reflect less of New York and Los Angeles culture, and more of Des Moines and Scranton.” 

These people are rural based, face economic challenges, have a lack of trust of the upper classes and, much of the rest of the world. 90% of Trump voters call the economy very important to their vote and 89% say the same about the issue of terrorism. Other issues given high priority by Trump supporters include immigration (79%) and foreign policy (79%)

This underlying trust issue is reinforced when other sources are reviewed. The Edelman Trust Barometer 2017 report, which surveys 33,000 respondents across 28 countries, reveals the “largest-ever drop in trust across the institutions of government, business, media and NGOs”. One of the many key findings reported was, ‘it is now evident that we have underinvested in the levers of trust across the board. We are experiencing a total collapse in trust in the institutions that shape our society.’

Glenn Cole, co-founder and chief creative officer of 72andSunny sees Trump’s win as a blindfold coming off the country. “For me, the big ‘aha’ of all this is the realisation that we (Americans) don’t really know each other, or what drives each other,” says Cole. “We think we do. We say we do. We point to data and research and polls and whatever else, but it has become painfully apparent that there’s a giant hole in our collective awareness.


For all the reach of social media, advertisers have arguably failed to harness it effectively to appeal to the new U.S voter. Trump used both Twitter and Facebook to reach voters. Both of these platforms were his primary mode of communication, where he was free to say, unchecked, whatever he wanted. With people able to express their approval/disapproval with the simple click of a button, like, or retweet, Trump’s campaign could quickly adapt their social media messaging accordingly.

“They have an advantage of a platform that has users that are conditioned to click and engage and give you feedback,” says Gary Coby, director of advertising at the Republican National Committee, who worked on Trump’s campaign. “Their platform’s built to inform you about what people like and dislike.”

As David Gergen – a political expert who has advised 4 presidents said, they (Trump supporters) represent a continuing, potent force, roiling with resentments.”  Their action in voting in Trump has left many advertisers wondering what they can do to reconnect to this increasingly vocal, and important, demographic.


The realisation by these agencies that they have been ignoring a large proportion of the population has made them review their approach to advertising.

“This election is a seminal moment for marketers to step back and understand what is in people’s heads and what actually drives consumer choice,” said Joe Tripodi, chief marketing officer of the Subway sandwich chain.

And it seems as though they are doing just that. Firstly, more agencies are going to focus on research before committing to creative ideas and secondly, they are going to do more to directly tap into this sector – including creating offices in, and hiring from, these communities.

It is clear from the election result that painting people, communities and states with the same brush as others, is no longer working. Agencies are going to have to do more to understand the individual personalities of towns and cities, and their inhabitants, if they want to be able to better communicate to consumers with their creative ideas.


As the U.S advertisers work to understand how Trump’s new America will impact them, will we see the same thing here in the post-Brexit U.K? Can it be said that actually, the U.K public have made just as a powerful impact with that vote, as the U.S public did with Trump?

While Trump’s reign as president is just beginning, the U.K faces a long road to achieve Brexit. This is giving agencies time to review their understanding of the publics way of thinking, and to adjust their processes. To fully understand the public demand more and more data will be have to be researched and analysed.

It is this change in process that will drive forward a new creative direction in advertising. The insights, derived from data, will become increasingly important to creative teams as they look to  translate it into meaningful communications and stories. 

Why? Because stories are a key tool in not only reaching and engaging people, but building up a relationship which in turn, creates the trust that is so lacking between the public and the corporate world. But this will only work if the story resonates, if it is relatable. And the only way to ensure this is to understand the public better through data and insight.