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Trump Ads Won the Election (and what marketers and advertisers can learn from it)

The campaign messages of the two candidates played a major role in the outcome of the 2016 Election

By Parry Bedi & Adhil Patel

The election is now firmly behind us. Over the next few months and years, we will continue to hear arguments and counter arguments as to how and why polls missed the mark, unexpected voter turnout issues, what the Clinton Campaign should and could have done differently, etc.

However, one thing is for sure – Trump voters were extremely motivated. They were motivated by issues, promises, and perhaps not surprisingly, by a strong distaste for Hillary Clinton (as we also covered in a two part GlimpzIt blog post). One logical question to ask is, “Where did this motivation come from?” Was it the result of a complex set of tradeoffs and decisions which voters made before they pulled the lever for one of the two candidates?

Based on our research we can say with confidence that the campaign messages of the two candidates played a major role in the outcome of the 2016 Election. How the messages were internalized, and the emotional responses they evoked, are the factors that tipped the scales.

It would be incorrect for us to say that we saw this stunning upset coming. However, like the recent article in Ad Age by Simon Dumenco, or this one in Mashable by Petere Allen Clark, we did notice that there was something off with Clinton’s advertising and messaging quite early on; it simply did not resonate with voters. In fact, we presented these findings at IIEX 2016 under the heading: What does Presidential mean to you? You can watch the video of that presentation here.

To better understand the appeal candidates had to voters, we analyzed their campaign ads, which we used as proxies for their core message, to identify the reactions they elicited and the emotional connections they made with voters.

Using TNS’s ConversionModel we tested ads from Clinton, Trump and Sanders on a general population sample, including potential voters of all political persuasions and focused on three key elements: Novelty – how original the ad was; Affective value – how emotionally moving it was; and Relevance – how relevant was the ad to the viewer.

Our initial analysis showed that Trump’s ads performed around the norm, not excelling in any particular dimension. The Sanders ad hit on a particularly emotive chord, and stirred up patriotic and human values. Clinton’s ads were considered Relevant and Affective but ranked low on Novelty.

To understand why Clinton’s ad scored low on Novelty, we asked a sample of 400 randomly chosen people to watch Trump’s Immigration ad, and Clinton’s Fighting for You ad, and submit an image and text response that comes to mind after watching each.

All of this unstructured data, along with accompanying demographic information and the stated voting preferences, were then fed into the GlimpzIt’s AI engine, which revealed the following insights: The top insight was that visual associations to Trump’s messaging were very specific and tied directly back to his narrative. This images submitted in response to his Immigration ad directly related to the issues raised in the ad itself.

Whereas, visual associations to Clinton’s messaging were much more vague. People struggled to recall the key message in Clinton’s ads.

When we analyzed the text responses and placed them into different categories, we saw another clear pattern.  Clinton’s message also failed to evoke a direct emotional response. While her ads contained a number of sub-messages targeted towards various groups, the lack of novelty and originality meant people simply tuned it out and could not correlate the issues with the ad. For example, for the Clinton Ad, we saw the following distribution of the most commonly used phrases and categories:

Notice how the basic human emotion of Empathy is way down below other much more issue-based and cerebral categories, such as Specific Details.

However, Trump’s ads had something for everyone and evoked an entire spectrum of basic human emotions ranging from skepticism to hope and triggered a subconscious and basic emotional response among people.

In fact they were extremely effective in getting people to sit up, take notice, and even take action.

But did this messaging lead to higher engagement? To find out, we analyzed the social media conversations relating to both ads on Twitter and Facebook. The results: Trump’s specific and memorable messaging struck such a chord with the audience that it completely dictated and dominated the social media conversation.

From our Twitter analysis, one of the key themes of the election – immigration – exemplifies how much Trump and his supporters controlled the narrative through share of voice. We analyzed 624,539 tweets from 221,760 accounts over nine months and discovered that, not only were Trump supporters much more vocal (as measured by number of tweets), but most of the content shared was around Trump’s actual statements.

This was further proven through our analysis of the Clinton and Trump campaigns’ official Facebook pages. While Trump posted less to his page (66 posts versus 100 posts by Clinton), he managed to achieve a lot more engagement, by garnering substantially more likes, shares and comments than Clinton.


One of the dominant themes of the election has been the polarization seen across social media. Therefore conventional wisdom suggests that there would be little crossover between supporters of the two campaigns – conversations happening in echo chambers. While this was true on Twitter, it was not true on Facebook. Trump’s messaging was extremely successful in breaking through the silos. People commenting positively on Clinton’s Facebook page were almost eight times more likely to comment on Trump’s page (albeit negatively).

Trump’s messaging was prompting action both by people who were supporting it, AND by those who were adamantly opposed to it – thereby ensuring that the every major conversation on the social media was about Trump’s messaging.

So where does that leave us? Trump ads were much more potent. They directly motivated people on an emotional level, which in turn made them more memorable and inspired action.  In order to connect with and influence people, it is key to have the ability to tap into raw human emotions. This is how an outspoken and controversial candidate like Trump, talking about highly emotive topics such as immigration, was able to connect, mobilize, and at the same time antagonize a large spectrum of people with a simple message. People were more or less forced to choose sides and take action. This in turn meant that that people across the political spectrum were actively engaging with and thus exponentially increasing the reach of Trump’s messaging on social media.

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