Heather Higgins is President & CEO of Independent Women's Voice.
Donald Trump's galvanizing celebrity is trumping political certitudes (e.g., you need a ground game and a super PAC), pundits (he can't possibly survive that), and pollsters (this won't last). But consider the parallels between two brilliant marketers: Donald Trump, candidate, and Kris Jenner, mother and architect of all things Kardashian.
Trump's marketing brilliance was clear from his self-promotion-driven career, his repeated resurrection from bankruptcies and family drama, and the way he inflates even actual success.
Kris Jenner, too, has managed to parlay a daughter's sex tape into first a show and now an empire of obsessive family drama worth hundreds of millions.
How do they both manage their brands? Very similarly. Let's enumerate:
Predictable Surprise – This is the hook. The audience is waiting for the next gasp moment, indiscrete revelation, or outré comment. It's fun to watch. You know it's coming, and you're waiting for it. A bit like auto racing – Will there be an accident? Will they survive? Yes! Let's do it again.
Excusability – Why do the same comments that would hurt anyone else not damage Trump (king of frank speech) or Kris Jenner (who often seems to drive the drama with deliberate bad behavior like giving her daughter's new phone number to the dreaded ex)?
They survive because each has an excuse relieving them of blame. Jenner's inexcusable behavior is just something she "can't help" and does out of "love ". (OK, so it is love of ratings, but fans suspend disbelief and play along.)
As for Trump's decried pronouncements: on rare occasions he didn't mean them, or he was misunderstood, but most often–and this is the killer app–he doubles down and says he's just speaking truth.
Us – Stipulate that taste and aesthetic differ on the socioeconomic spectrum – "old money" in Greenwich, CT will generally have a very different idea of what is elegant and beautiful than someone who is recently wealthy.
Why does this matter? Because if there is going to be empathy, the audience needs to see the Kardashians and Trump not as looking down at them, or condescending to them, or leading un-relatable lives. They need to be "people like us," with taste and aspirations like us, save that they've already succeeded at the American Dream.
If the Kardashians had small backsides and didn't spend exhaustive hours and resources in pursuit of beauty, we couldn't relate. But the fact that their butts are larger than most of ours and they must invest such labors to look the way they do makes us feel kind of good, and as though we could attain this too.
Similarly, Trump, promoted as the "blue collar billionaire" by his son, is now celebrating the "poorly educated" – his peeps, along with everyone else who hasn't made it yet but has aspirations.
Trump is the son of a very wealthy man, but you wouldn't know this from his affect. He is a man who, despite going to private schools and ultimately Wharton, has chosen to have an accent like a prize fighter from Queens.
Similarly, like most rich kids of his era, he got multiple educational deferments from the draft, and then got what many view as a dubious medical deferment. But publicly he says he just "had a high number" for the draft – no deferments or special treatment here.
Look too at the trademark gilding in his marquis buildings and the invariably huge, trumpeting self-name-promotion – again hallmarks of the newly rich who want the world to know they have made it. (Worth noting: reports are that Trump's golf clubs, marketed to a corporate clientele, have a different, more understated aesthetic.)
No savvy marketer does these things unintentionally. Rather, it all helps make them both aspirational and relatable for many Americans – whether as consumers of Kardashian shows and endorsed products, or Trump casinos, hotels, TV shows, and now candidacy.
Outsized – Both Jenner and Trump are walking thesauruses of enthusiasm and outsized praise (or scorn). Much of that is directed to the people they want to have like them, gushing effusively about how wonderful they are and how dearly appreciated.
Have you noticed that Donald and Melania are the only ones who use the word "love" when thanking their supporters? First she says it, and then he repeats it, and it sounds quite sincere when they say it. And who doesn't like to feel loved and cared for?
Indeed Mitt Romney's biggest deficit was among people who thought he didn't "care about people like me". Trump makes sure all his fans – and his friends in the media – know just how wonderful he thinks they are, and that makes them feel good.
Omnipresent – The Kardashian outpouring is incessant. Whether through TV shows, in-between season shows, social media, or magazine covers, Kris Jenner makes sure her family is never far from yet another headline and her audience's consciousness. That's purposeful.
Trump too is always coming up with some new little bomb to drop, creating a black hole for media attention sucked toward himself and away from both the other candidates and whatever the last issue was that he now wants to move past. Most importantly, this strategy not only controls the conversation, but ensures there's no moment where voters can forget him, as that conversation is always about him.
Authority – Americans trust winners, and both Jenner and Trump personify that. Jenner has made her family household names and multimillionaires, but even more appealing is her role is as strong decision maker and the family glue, guiding them to their own successes.
Trump's success and appeal, too, is more than money – he's seen by his voters as the strong man who'll stand up for what America used to be, who says he'll talk tough to Putin, make Mexico pay for a wall, take care of the little guy.
For people who see their world and culture slipping away, who are tired of the ineffectuality of Washington, Trump is the hero who can't be bought, the strong-man savior who'll return American to greatness. Details and likely outcomes are irrelevant relative to emotions – both for hope, which he embodies, and for anger, for which he provides a vehicle.
Commoditizing the Brand – Both Jenner and Trump are masters of turning their brands into commodities – whether as a corset empire (for "waist training") or earned media. Who needs donations when you can sell hats? Who needs a super PAC for paid advertising, when a media that both wants ratings and thinks that Trump will be the easiest candidate for the Democratic nominee to beat is providing bottomless exposure?
Reality television had already coarsened the conversation. That married the white-hot cry that Washington was nothing more than a self-interested sellout, and spawned the politics of populism as managed by a master of promotion.
No wonder Kanye has already announced he too is going to run for President. Forget taking Miami – the next Kardashian spin-off will be Kardashians – or Trumps – Take the White House.