Dark side of content marketing revealed in US election

Donald Trump may have a content management problem.

That might seem strange to say about someone who has run an unprecedented political campaign whereby he is the source of sound bites and social media snaps that have dominated successive news cycles. But according to Politico, the presumptive Republican nominee and relentless self-promoter is having trouble getting people to speak at the forthcoming party convention.

The showcase event in Cleveland begins on July 18 is and is supposed to present the coalescing of the party around its chosen standard bearer. But this may seem a distant possibility given that many in the GOP hierarchy are saying they won’t speak or even attend, and some may be replaced with a slate of sports stars and celebrities instead. It looks like the convention may be a potential messaging mish-mash, presenting an image of disunity and superficiality.

No ho-hum

Trump’s daughter Ivanka said the convention won’t be “ho-hum”. Like most things about the campaign, that’s certainly true. But whether this kind of carnival-like infomercial will help get across an idea of him as a serious world leader-in-waiting is another question.

One speaker who may still show up is Senator Ted Cruz, the last Republican to fall to Trump in the primaries. Former Cruz aide Jason Miller recently joined Trump’s campaign as director of communications and in a sign of the content-focused political times, swiftly deleted his previous tweets attacking his new boss.

Trump’s personal brand outreach is built on name recognition and the idea that, as Oscar Wilde wrote in The Picture of Dorian Gray, the only thing worse than being talked about is not being talked about. It’s largely impossible for him to be anything other than who he is and, despite attempts to appear like a more conventional politician – “Teleprompter Trump” he’s being called – it is the blunt Trump that Republican voters seem to want.

Distribution sweet spot

In the primaries, Trump’s free media bonanza allowed him to bypass traditional ad channels to market his message. But now there are questions over his campaign finance situation entering the general election, making the control and effective use of content marketing – both proactively and reactively – even more important than in previous elections.

And with national polls showing their candidate trailing to expected Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton, the challenge now for RNC Chairman Reince Priebus and House Speaker Paul Ryan, who will ostensibly preside over the convention, is how to distinguish the Trump brand from the broader Republican brand.

At stake regardless of the outcome of the White House race are down-ballot contests that will determine control of both houses of congress – and the impact of having Trump at the top of their ticket is worrying Republicans. As NBC news reports:

“Here’s what’s going to happen for you every day,” Republican strategist and fiery Trump critic Rick Wilson said. “Do you agree with this utterly racist whack-job thing? Do you agree? The Democrats are going to run ads against these guys without mercy.”

Yet as has been widely reported, both expected nominees are historically unpopular, providing a challenge for their content and message strategies.

YouTube channels and news sites

One of Hillary Clinton’s most successful message distribution methods has been through her YouTube channel and The Briefing, a clearing house for her news, statements and popular ads – both TV and online.

As the Democrats prepare for their own convention in Philadelphia – the week after Cleveland – her opponent Bernie Sanders is still technically hanging on, holding back on an endorsement. His campaign news site Democracy Daily runs stories covering the populist themes of his “revolution” and – interestingly – barely mentions Mrs Clinton.

But the opposition messages against the expected Democratic nominee are already ramping up, both from the Trump campaign and outside groups.

Trump launched a website called LyingCrookedHillary.com. (Her campaign’s equivalent is ArtoftheSteal.biz a play on his book title Art of the Deal. Cleverly, ArtoftheSteal.com directs to a Fox News article on how Trump “fights back”.)

Meanwhile, the National Rifle Association just bought more than $2million worth of ads in battleground states – such as the convention sites Ohio and Pennsylvania – against Clinton in the wake of the Benghazi Report.

And the ongoing FBI investigation over the former Secretary of State’s personal email use will continue to be fodder for pro-Trump ads and messages using hashtags like #anythingforpower.

Email junk mail

To illustrate just how multi-faceted this content campaign is, Trump this week fell foul of a somewhat lower-profile marketing channel, the humble email list.

Not only did a lot of his fundraising emails “get filtered out as junk”, according to Yahoo Finance, but his campaign prompted complaints to the FEC (Federal Election Commission) by soliciting foreign politicians.

It’s illegal for foreign nationals to contribute to American political campaigns, and Trump and his advisers surely know that. It may have been accidental, but whatever the explanation it appears there are questions to be answered about the lists the campaign is apparently using.

On a lighter note, one piece of cute political content that went viral this week was a public service video by BuzzFeed featuring President Obama attempting “five things tougher than registering to vote”.

FirstWord’s Steve McGookin first covered a US presidential election in 1988 and says that this one is easily the most fascinating yet. He’ll be writing here regularly about political ads and the candidates’ media-messaging strategies until election day in November.

Dark side of content marketing revealed in US election is part of Content24, the blog for London content marketing agency FirstWord.