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Hairy scary! How marketing helped Trump win

Opportunistic nostalgia politics underestimated again. Four Dutch general elections ago, a grumpy old man from The Hague starred in a commercial for CêlaVíta potatoes. Based on the slogan ‘Wonderfully modern with all the goodness of past’, the commercial’s star grumbled and griped to his heart’s content. ‘Everything was better in the good old days, your underpants weren’t a string, you didn’t have any speed bumps, only potholes…’ He was discovered at an amateur dramatics club, but turned out to be a footman for the Dutch Royal household.

Former Dutch Queen Beatrix reportedly often teased him with lines such as: ‘But Cor, the wine was much redder back in the good old days!’ A political party named ‘Good Old Days Party’ whose mission was to restore the good old days was fictitiously established.

CêlaVíta commissioned market research company Nipo to ask the Dutch people: ‘If there were a party that cherishes the goodness of the past, would you consider voting for it?’ The results: 4.4 million Dutch people said they’d consider it and seven per cent said they would absolutely vote for the party. This would have rendered ten seats in the Dutch lower house of Parliament, almost as many as the Dutch Labour Party was projected to win in the most recent poll at the time.

Trump gets how easy it is to capitalise on a longing for the past. It’s all about playing on the fear of change, which 90 per cent of us have. Most people would prefer to build a wall around their home and hearth. And they’d prefer life like it was back in the good old days. Make America great again with more safety and fewer immigrants. Trump knows how easy it is to manipulate the masses with a cocktail of bravura, simplicity and repetition.

The bravura of Steve Jobs: ‘It’s better to be a pilot than to join the navy.’ The simplicity of Einstein: ‘If you can’t explain it simply, you don’t understand it well enough.’ And the repetition of Cillit Bang: it reminds you of your toilet bowl cleaner 20 times a day.

People said Trump wouldn’t be able to withstand the Democrats’ sophisticated use of big data. A team of data analysts, mathematicians and marketers carried out 400,000 computer simulations to calculate which electoral districts they should campaign in. That went way over his peroxide-crowned head.

But he’s the best marketer of the two by far. He grasped the undercurrent of dissatisfaction, knew how to get on the news every day and cussed and ranted his way to victory with 33,000 tweets. Let’s hope the Dutch set-in-their-ways politicians do a better job of seeing through the politics of nostalgia. And make sure we don’t go light years back in time, but keep moving full force forward. Wonderfully modern, but without the good old days!

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Dick van der Lecq

Dick van der Lecq is the Managing Director at DDB Unlimited. He was previously the Managing Partner at Etcetera.