The worst type of marketing imaginable and with consequences to match

November 2016

Unless you voted for Brexit and also read the Mail, Express or Sun, then chances are that you’ll have been as horrified as me when the news broke about Trump winning the US presidency. And come January, the reality of the situation will really sink in as the ignorant, vile, science-denying, right-wing bigot takes his desk at the White House.

The parallels with the typical people that voted for Trump and those that voted for Brexit are well understood and well documented, so no need to cover that ground again in any great detail here. Well, other than to perhaps slightly expand on my opening line about daily newspaper preference, and add to that: white male, middle-age to elderly, relatively low income and certainly xenophobic. Of course lots of exceptions on both sides of the Atlantic to that broad profile, but fair to say they wouldn’t include smart, young black or Asian women studying for a degree at university.

Both the UK and US are democracies (or at least the US is currently . . .) and an obvious downside to such a position is that, in the context of elections, relatively stupid people are allowed to vote in just the same way as the smart ones are. Present the smart ones with fake news and bullshit propaganda and chances are they’ll see right through it, but do the same with the less-than-smart and chances are they won’t. This, of course, makes the less-than-smart something of a political marketer’s dream.

We’ve all read about how fake news and right-wing propaganda influenced both the Brexit result and US election, with Facebook coming under particular fire for allowing absolute nonsense to be posted on its platform. Of course social media is full of nonsense and that’s surely part of its appeal, but when that nonsense incites racial hatred (think the Christian-based hate group Britain First for Brexit) and results in global instability – which the Trump presidency will surely achieve – then that nonsense has to be taken rather more seriously. And hence why Mark Zuckerberg has been forced into such a defensive position about the role Facebook played in the US election result.

But this isn’t just specifically about social media and with links to fake news websites being run by teenagers in Macedonia (and if you haven’t read about that particular phenomenon then worth Googling it after you’ve finished up here), but genuine large media titles with a right-wing agenda. In the US the largest is no doubt Fox News, and in the UK the Sun, Mail and Express, as I’ve already referenced above, have all played their part. And this is important to note because the all-determining older white males in both the US and UK are not typically social media natives.

You might think that influencing the uneducated masses with fake news and bullshit stories in order to stir-up prejudice, promote a sense of nationalism, and get them blindly following you is a new thing, but it isn’t of course – it’s just the type of media which has changed and the relative ease of getting your message over in our digital age. Indeed, religion has managed it for thousands of years and to the point that all the world’s faiths have such tenets imbedded in their respective dogmas.

And certainly in the case of the US presidential election – and US politics in general for that matter – religion has been combined with political rhetoric to great effect. All of Trump’s key appointments to date are right-wing Christians (and most of them white), with his Vice President, Mike Pence, being a fundamentalist who has a vision of the US becoming some sort of Christian theocracy. And Trump’s outrageous stance against Muslims throughout much of his campaigning needs no further detailing here.

What we’ve seen in the UK for Brexit and the US with Trump has been driven by almost unimaginably vile and misleading marketing – albeit highly effective. All of us are exposed to misleading marketing in a commercial sense on a regular basis (the sofa companies are legendary for it) but the sheer level of the implications from the Brexit and US election votes are mind-blowing – in particular for the latter. I’m not saying I haven’t told the odd porky to consumers in my 40 year career in marketing, but if I have then it’s been to get them to spend a few pounds on a new grocery product – it hasn’t been to incite racial hatred or pour scorn onto scientific fact such as climate change, which affects our very existence on this planet.

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