2016 Election Marketing Head-to-Head

By November 3, 2016 Branding
2016 presidential campaign donald trump hillary clinton branding and marketing analysis

Suspend belief for a second and imagine that we’re talking about a far away election that is not as theatrical as ours has become. Let’s ignore the issues, smears, and personalities of each and focus on how well Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump have presented their individual brands to the American public. There are four rounds: Website Design and Branding, Messaging, Audience, and Targeting.

Design and Branding Winner: Tie

donald trump face


Donald Trump’s old website design looked like a berry smoothie.

Donald Trump's redesigned website is much cleaner and more effective above-the-fold

Donald Trump’s redesigned website is much cleaner and more effective above-the-fold.

Donald Trump’s website, up until three months ago was atrocious and felt like a promo site for a Medal of Honor video game release. It was equal portions red and blue, with precious little white adding any sort of clarity. It felt cluttered, and the crimson hue was reminiscent of blood. The text also wasn’t very legible with thin white on darkly colored backgrounds.

Whoever redesigned the website did a good job. It now feels less drab. The menu has proper padding and prominence, whitespace has made a return, and the imagery is smarter. Trump’s above the fold is typical for election websites: there’s a newsletter signup, a donate module, and an image of him and his running mate superimposed on a massive American flag. This is unfortunately all that Trump’s new website gets right with UX. Someone should have considered function as well as form with the redesign.

Look at that face, does it say confidence as you're about to hand over money?

Look at that face, does it say confidence as you’re about to hand over money?

With the cult of Trump that we know so well from television and public life, I thought here were be a photo of his big depressing face with a thumbs up or peace sign on every single page. The homepage and state pages are really the only places he makes an appearance. Otherwise, the site is very text-heavy. If polls are correct and Trump’s supporters are significantly less educated than Clinton’s, this may be a mistake – someone with a high school education and little interest nuts-and-bolts position papers may not take the time to read the 750 – 2000 words per issue. When he does have banner images, most of them feature the large crowds he’s spoken before, are perfect for his populist message.

He doesn’t have any. He must be used to his name carrying weight in the business world and thought it would carry over to politics. Although most politicians just use a stylized version of their name, it’s shortsighted to not see the value of visual symbols following the media-rich campaign of Barack Obama.

Trump’s site makes some terrible UI mistakes. The tiled box layout isn’t very easy to scan since they only sometimes lineup correctly, and the headlines without descriptions aren’t enticing enough to click. If the goal is to get me to use the main navigation, it’s a success by last resort – it’s really the only thing I’d be interested in interacting with. The videos on the homepage don’t have proper poster images, have broken styles, contain ads (because they embedded directly from news websites), take forever to load as Flash often can, and require two clicks to initiate. Box shadows are done. Patterned backgrounds are done. Years-long article archives are done (no one cares what he said in January of 2015). The stylistic embellishments are distracting. Old Standard and Montserrat are the Google Font combination Trump’s team chose. In my opinion, Old Standard is hard to read. And what is this early 2000s throwback button to the right?
hillary clinton face

Hillary Clinton's old website design. Join and donate. Why? I hope you know, because it's nowhere on the website.

Hillary Clinton’s old website design. Join and donate. Why? I hope you know, because it’s nowhere on the website.

Clinton's new design. Where is she looking? I don't know, but chip in.

Clinton’s new design. Where is she looking? I don’t know, but chip in.

Clinton’s website, from a design perspective, is lightyears ahead of Trumps. It’s uncluttered, everything is neatly spaced, and the typography is clearer with proper line height and font sizing. She has a single accent color (blue) and a single CTA color (red), compared to trump’s use of these same colors which are blended into branding colors. The forms look good, the buttons are clear, and there’s better use of media. It even looks like Clinton commissioned her own alteration of the Sharp Sans font, calling it Sharp Unity. It’s a gorgeous, Futura-like font that is easy to read. Like Obama’s eight years ago, Clinton took note of modern digital design standards and embraced them completely.

She really wants her party. Help her out, will ya?

She really wants her party. Help her out, will ya?

But check out her previous design, which made it through most of the year. There was never a mention of her position statement. Join the campaign? Why? No clue. Then Donate. Why? At least she answered that with her follow-up.

That’s right – donate, so I can go to her party. Not because it’s in my interest, or because it advances some ideal we share. No, it’s for a ticket to watch her congratulate herself.

The imagery that does not contain Hillary Clinton is effective. I say those without her because those with her all feel contrived. Those of other people – her campaigners and supporters, are perfect. They feel natural and spontaneous, which is easier to identify with as a voter.

Again, a hundred times better than Trump’s interface. There’s nothing to mention more specific than that above. It’s a great site that follows more design practices.

Obama started it, and Clinton wisely followed it. Although it has occasionally become a tool for her distractors to manipulate, at least she has a recognizable visual element that can quickly convey the authority of her brand.

Messaging Winner: Trump

Vision Statement – Get to the Point

donald trump face
If I knew nothing about the candidates, and were visiting their home pages for the first time, I’d know immediately what Donald Trump’s campaign is about: He lays it out in his first body paragraph.

The message is simple and appeals to the same values he has always controlled: patriotism/nativism (allusion with “American Dream” bound with urgency e.g., “The time is now”), optimism (the diction with “bright,” “new,” “exciting,” “opportunities”), and camaraderie (the anaphora of beginning four sentences with “Together”). It’s effective considering Rasmussen found only 24% of likely voters think the United States is heading in the right direction and 10% of the adult population is unemployed. A message like this resonates with those displeased with the current state of America.

hillary clinton face

A good place to tell me why I'd vote for you. Actually, tell me how impressive you are.

A good place to tell me why I’d vote for you. Actually, tell me how impressive you are.

Again, I’m a know-nothing voter at this point. Upon landing on Hillary Clinton’s homepage, I’m met with a video (which rotates with fresh content), a donation box, a pensive Clinton staring in the distance while asking me to “Chip in now,” and recent news stories – only half of which are about Hillary Clinton. Much of the messaging is attacks and warnings which she should mention, but not before making her message known. Scrolling down the page, I have a larger image of Clinton, another donation box, an event finder, and finally, 60% down the page, the first tease of what Hillary Clinton is fighting for. Unfortunately, it’s just a link to the Issues section. Two clicks later, I’m at an issue. If I read all of her positions on the issues, maybe I could come up with her vision statement.

In marketing, the concept of a short-digestible concept is called a Unique Value Proposition, or UVP. Even after reading a position paper, I have no idea what message (a sentence of two), embodies Hillary Clinton’s campaign. Even if I don’t agree with it, at least I know Donald Trump’s – it was the first text on the website. With Clinton, it’s nowhere to be found. The About page? Nope, that’s a biography of Hillary Clinton (also the longest page on the site, by a factor of 4). Maybe it’s packed under “More?” Nope, that’s a blog and calendar. Oh! Maybe one the dozens of videos spread across the site? I wouldn’t know, because there’s no way in hell I’m watching every video to find out what should be your primary message.

Slogan – Stay on Point

donald trump face
“Make America Great Again”
Even before the election formally kicked off, Trump has owned three primary issues: The wall, international trade, and blue-collar jobs. Presumably using those elements as inspiration, he borrowed from Reagan the phrase “Make America Great Again.” This slogan has never changed and is presented at every opportunity. The website copy, digital collateral, and merchandise are invariably stamped with the phrase. It has never changed.

The header carries the message through the site, but even without the header, the phrase appears on nearly every page in the body copy. Moreover, it appears wherever there is a call to action – linking an immediate action to an aspiration goal is a smart move. You can get the Make America Great Again on 16 different types of hats. 16 hats with the exact same message. But with all the parts of good message – consumer-centered, benefit-driven, and allusion to a problem – it’s not a bad one to lead with (even if it’s someone elses).

Hyperbole and repetition are Trump’s greatest literary tools, and despite the ridicule he receives for being a narrow-minded candidate, it does work.

hillary clinton face
“I’m with Her” or “She’s With Us” or “Strong Together” or…
Clinton has opted for a different strategy in regards to slogan. Instead of sticking and embracing a single phrase, she has opted for many abstract ones depending on nature of the race. In February, social media was alight with #ImWithHer, until Trump countered with “I’m With You” which prompted Clinton’s correction to “She’s With Us.” She’s with us was probably her strongest phrase to solicit trust from the American people, until she scrapped it following the DNC debacle, which prompted “Stronger Together,” an appeal that could only be directed toward alienated Sanders supporters.

hillary-clinton-marketing-button-2I’m With Her and Stronger Together are her longest-standing slogans, and her usual messaging tagline. If that’s the case, she’s speaking to a comparatively small number of voters: those voting for the vanity of a historical candidate and those hesitant to fall into the fold of the Democrat Party. She’s casting a net over the groups she already owns. Donald Trump’s slogan at least appeals to the camaraderie, patriotism, and nativism that many middle-Americans appreciate. Hers is too vague to really mean anything other than communication in the wrong direction; it’s a pledge from the voter to the candidate, rather than a broadcast from the candidate to the voters.

Trump has 16 hats with the same message, but Clinton’s shop doesn’t have a duplicate slogan anywhere. Merchandizing is essential, and I think she just spread herself too thin and focused too much on herself. Plaster your personality on evert piece of merchandise is great if you’re a skateboard brand or Marc Jacobs, but it’s less effective when your audience is a thoughtful populace that knows plenty (arguably too much) about you, and not enough about your vision.


Values – Don’t Make Me Think Too Hard

Good thing I have a 3D TV

Good thing I have a 3D TV

Both suck. Obama was great at delivering small snippets that had the power to resonate while also preserving the integrity, urgency, and solution to an issue. Neither of them can compare. They’re both narcissistic and treat every message as an opportunity to talk about themselves. Their excerpts read like book covers about the author, listing their accomplishment and finishing with a small tidbit meant to be interesting. Instead, they should be able to quickly and effectively present a one-line answer to each of the nation’s issues. Hillary comes close, but instead of offering her solution, she just rephrases the problem. Her central comment on Poverty: No child should have to grow up in poverty. To be fair, she actually does discuss it extensively once you’re on the specific issue page, but someone looking for a quick information might not make that final click. Remember: the average consumer’s attention span is as low as 8 seconds, and an elevator pitch can’t take more than 30 seconds.

Trump wants me to text him if I want updates, whereas Clinton asks me for my phone number and she’ll take it from there. I’m not going to switch devices to send you a message Donald, that’s too much work. But then Hillary wants me to put on 3D glasses to see her uber hip Hope poster knock-off.

Channel Strategy Winner: Tie

Clinton Traditional
Clinton has unequivocally outspent Trump in traditional ad buys. Depending on stage of the election and the specific market considered, she has spent 2x to 100x as much as Donald Trump. The last raw numbers I could find show an overall ratio of 17:1 in favor of Clinton. I’m sure that number has varied in the last months of the election, but she’s still undoubtedly outspending Trump, especially in battleground states.

Both of their ads follow the same tried-and-true strategies we’ve seen for the last 4o years. They play a few soundbites of their opponent saying something ridiculous or inflammatory (or “facts” showing same), present themselves as the ideological opposite, and end with a) some cheery music as their face is overlaid and vague promises are strewn about or b) fear baiting. Their display ads are universally about being the anti-candidate. Hillary tends to favor speaking to parents, women, and minorities. Trump focuses on international policy and jobs. If we’re looking at what potential voters consider the most important problems, Trump’s ads are more on-target for general audiences but his smaller budget means it reaches less people.

Social Media
Thankfully, this is the most objective measure of digital success, as we can easily tally the raw numbers for each candidate on each social platform. The short of it: Trump wins in both followers and mentions, by pretty large margins. The only interesting thing to note is that is that he is not on LinkedIn, the two have equal Instagram followers, and Google Plus still can’t get any users.


Targeting Winner: Clinton

donald trump face
Trump knows his base and fortunately for Trump, it’s a reasonably homogenous group: white, male, lower-middle class, less educated. He also know that the only difference between these potential voters, many of which are jobless, poor, and disappointed with the direction of the country, is their residence. To that end, Trump has a section of his site that allows users to select their state and the result page contains a subsection of issues that they’ve discovered are concerns to that state’s residents. Check out the Florida-Arizona comparison below. Gun rights are included in Arizona’s issues and excluded for Florida, and Immigration is included in Florida but not Arizona. Considering the racial makeup of Arizona and the history of gun violence in Florida, it makes sense to exclude those issues from those states.

This level of targeting is actually more than I expected of Trump, but much less than what he needs. He wants to reach an audience based on their motivations or identity, which has nothing to do with whether or not someone lives in a battleground state.



Trump also has a knack for speaking in the common tongue when delivering his messages. Knowing his audience, he relies on simple words (possibly invented words a la bigly) whereas Clinton throws in words like demagogue and deplorable, which aren’t esoteric but are definitely beyond the reading level of many Americans.

hillary clinton face
Clinton highlights another method of targeting: messaging by demographic. Her base is unsurprisingly more diverse and divided by more than just state lines. To reach her possible voters, she needed to be able to speak to various personas, specifically those designated by race, age, and gender. She has a page for African Americans, Latinos, Asian Americans, Women, and Millennials. Like Trumps, some of the content is reused from page to page, but unlike Trump, Clinton includes target-specific messaging and imagery. The Latinos for Hillary page gives the reader a bit of what she has accomplished for the Latino community, as well as a downloadable Latino toolkit, and a recommendation to organize a cafecito. The Millennials page includes a downloadable Millennials resource kit, a special callout for law students, and Students for Hillary information.


Bonus Round

Trump’s Authenticity
In the Apparel section of Donald Trump’s shop, we see the same three models filling the page. One white man, one white woman, and one person of color (I’m not using this phrase to be politically correct, I just have no idea what ethnicity he is). To create the appearance of authenticity, at least show some variety.

Clinton’s Profile Ability
Clinton allows users to create their own profile (much like Obama did in 2008), which gives them access to campaigning tools and messages. If anyone’s using it, these types of tools can go much further than just telling someone to join a phone bank, which is Trump’s only real outreach enablement strategy.

Trump’s Differentiation
In many ways, the election is a referendum not on the current party in power, but on politicians. Differentiation is probably therefore Donald Trump’s greatest strength. He’s not Hillary Clinton, who represents Washington more than any candidate after George himself. He’s not the policy intellectual the Republican establishment was hoping for. And he’s not a politician.


In a way, their marketing strategies reflect their attitude toward politics in general. Clinton’s digital strategy is controlled and formulaic, but predictably lacking in the nuances of marketing. Trump’s is brash and shallow, but that’s worked for many brands in the past. Trump edges Clinton out in digital messaging and Clinton scores with branding and targeting. What really matters is their targeting of undecided voters. Clinton wins by reaching more with a less polarizing message, though she could benefit by transitioning from an anti-candidate to one that speaks for the issues American’s care about most, namely the economy and security. The only real winner is the service facilitating the contributions – how much do you think they get per transaction?

Justin Emsoff

About Justin Emsoff

I'm a twenty-something USC grad living in sunny Southern California with my dogs, a camera, and terrible allergies. Though mostly splitting my time between marketing and web development, I appreciate minimalism, Austrian economics, Eastern European history, and Objectivism.

One Comment

  • Lil says:

    Genius move on the part of his campaign to leave him out of the commercials wherever they can. Totally tune out when I hear his actual voice….”I approve this message…”