How digital marketing strategy helped Trump and Modi

How digital marketing helped Donald Trump win presidential race.
Elections are no longer won on hard-fought campaign trails, on nail-biting TV debates or theatrical speeches in packed arenas. Instead, digital marketing is the new cool in politics. The winning leaders are shaped as brands by their marketing teams and sold as trusted products. Welcome to the new age of democracy were consent is manufactured and electorates are swayed by a constant barrage of Facebook ads or just by a single tweet.

Political marketing and hate campaigns

Two heads of state, US President Donald Trump and India’s Prime Minister Narendra Modi, are masters of the political marketing game. Both command a formidable brand identity and they pander to an electorate that feeds on hate and nationalism. Modi and Trump won their election victories on the politics of hate and were powered by a huge war chest of funds. As Vijay Prashad writes in the Al Jazeera: “It is hate that brought them both to power. It is hate that anchors their agenda.”

However, beyond the politics of hate and money power both Modi and Trump were carefully crafted by their marketing personnel. Their teams data mined the electorate and micro-targeted voters through a slew of techniques, campaigns and tools.

Brand marketing to shape the narrative

Donald Trump was always a brand and he used the technique of lifestyle marketing to win the US presidential election. Lifestyle marketing is about creating an emotional connection with a product or service. It’s how Apple products are sold not as straightforward consumer items but are advertised to connect with a consumer’s sense of self and identity. The long term benefit lies in its power to create brand loyalty and strong consumer advocates which Apple now command worldwide. Trump via his “Make American Great Again” slogan, T-shirts, posters and social media ads struck a chord with white identity politics who became loyal purveyors of his political brand.

Narendra Modi rode to power on his vision to transform India into a first world superpower. The marketing narrative that his team weaved was targetted to the core urban Hindu voter base in Northern India. He projected himself as a technocrat leader who transformed the state of Gujarat into an investment haven. His media team harped on his humble beginnings from being a tea-seller to a powerful leader destined to change a nation. He was showcased as the role-model for India’s impoverished millions. To them he was projected as the man who will wipe away India’s poverty to the history books. To drive home the message, Modi’s team used live hologram speeches in the remotest corners of the country.


Social media as a marketing weapon

Social media is Donald Trump’s playing ground. On Twitter he is followed by more than 32.8 million and on Facebook he has 23.6 million fans. He even has a strong presence on YouTube, Vine, Instagram and Periscope. The mirco blogging site Twitter was his weapon of choice against his critics. If someone says anything bad about him, “bing bing bing — I say something really bad about them,” he says. His tweets even earned him the title: “the Ernest Hemingway of 140 characters”.

However, during the heat of the election campaign and deep inside Trump’s digital marketing bunker the methods were different. Brad Parscale, Donald Trump’s digital director, used micro-targeted Facebook ads to gain the most reluctant voter. The Trump team employed Facebook embeds who unravelled the tricks to unleash the full potential of the social media platform. Parscale told media outlets recently that the campaign constantly tested minute variations of Facebook ads to maximize impact. He said, around 50,000 to 60,000 ad variations were tested daily and sometimes as many as 100,000.

Modi with over 31 million followers on Twitter and 41.8 million fans on Facebook has a huge digital presence. His 2014 election campaign was mainly driven on social media. His social media team targeted and won over India’s online population of around 200 million. They churned out a steady stream of marketing material including fake news stories and photo-shopped images glorifying Modi and his brand of politics.