Trump’s Legacy: Merchandise Maketh the Man

Posted January 2017 in Current affairs, Marketing & Branding, Promotional Clothing


It took about 92,000 caps to “Make America Great Again”. This was an unusual marketing technique, but, then again, this entire presidential campaign has been unprecedented. The red avuncular cap came almost as an afterthought.

The story went that Trump feared that unruly weather would ruffle his cotton-candy sculpture of hair exposing his bald dome. For years, the billionaire had been caught on camera with golden hairs wafting 12 inches skyward, making him look like a clown. He had to cover his head! Hence the solution: The hat.Trumpsters quickly modeled it.

The Lafayette, La., company Ace Specialities earned $500,000 for its ubiquitous “Make America Great Again” caps that sold out by campaign’s end. That’s more than Donald spent on any item besides air travel, which came from his own company.

Merchandise vs. traditional advertising

The caps were crude. They were old-school, round-brimmed - some in white and navy, others in red and white. Trump scrawled his name on the brims of some of them.Critics criticized the billionaire for spending four times more on caps than on staff and field organization.
Politico reported that Trump had increased his spending on the 84-person staff to merely $392,000 from June to July and had dropped a mere $432,000 on field operations. In that same time, the billionaire had spent $1.8 million on caps and t-shirts.
Hillary Clinton, on the other hand, had spent $2.9 million on her 703-person payroll and $25.8 million on media.There was meager traditional advertising too.

By end-October, Clinton’s campaign had spent $141.7 million on ads, compared with $58.8 million for Trump's campaign, according to NBC News. It wasn't only Clinton who Trump lagged behind. His campaign spent less too, the CNBC noted, than the campaigns of President Barack Obama and Mitt Romney, who spent $630.8 million and $360.7 million, respectively.

In the tail-end days of the campaign, followers begged Trump to invest more money in the kinds of traditional campaigning that Hillary did. One wrote to the Conservative Treehouse, an AltRight paper: The Trump campaign needs to start spending much more no later than early October as it is too risky not to and there is way too much at stake. I’ve given over $1,000 myself and want it spent on ads in battleground states. The lady had her online ads, media ads, and billboards. The billionaire had his buttons and his “Lock Her Up” t-shirts, and his caps.

The marketing genius of the caps

Followers went wild over the caps.They wore them, identified with them, and used them to strike up conversations. The NY Times quoted a certain Brendan Martin who had this to say about Trump: “The guy’s a marketing genius. It took him wearing a hat for everyone instantaneously to know his slogan of ‘Make America Great Again.’”

In a YouTube clip that went viral, Michael Moore the impact that the caps and, to a lesser extent, Trump’s t-shirts had on the wearer's mind. By wearing these clothes, they identified with him, and, in a way, became walking-talking billboards of his campaign. They were his emissaries. They slanted their identities to reflect his. And, as such, were far more involved in wanting their candidate to win than the Democrats were for Hillary. The billboards were out there to be touched and seen. The caps became part of the person. “It’s memorable - even if the implications of what he is saying is terrible,” said George Lois, the famous ad man and graphic designer. “The red baseball cap implies that it’s kind of an American staple. It’s worn by real people.”

Merchandise trumps traditional advertising

The hat became the “I Like Ike” button of the campaign and morphed into different titles, such as “Make America Gay Again”, Make America Great Britain Again” - even “Make Publishing Great Again.”

Hilary went the conventional route. The TV ads, Google ads, print and media blitz.Surveys showed the ads helped her in some states, not in others. At the end of the day, the guy who loved to tweet with caps-lock key on, won the presidency that same way. He topped thousands of heads with his fire-engine-red cap on heads that promised he’d make America great again. Whether Trump would or could not do so, it didn’t matter. Merchandise trumped billboards.

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