One of the biggest challenges most businesses face is generating publicity for their brand and growing their reputation in the market. Brand awareness and publicity allows potential customers to find you and can allow a business to grow rapidly. One famous business person that has mastered the art of publicity is Donald Trump. Although his approach is controversial and his methods are unorthodox, Trump has been able to grow his wealth into the billions, get his own TV show and ultimately become the president of the United States.

In his 1987 book “The Art of the Deal”, Donald Trump wrote that “…good publicity is preferable to bad, but from a bottom-line perspective, bad publicity is sometimes better than no publicity at all. Controversy, in short, sells.”

In this article, I’ll take a closer look at Donald Trump’s approach to marketing and publicity, how it has affected his reputation and the ultimate result of his choices.

Stimulating emotions for publicity

Psychology studies show that emotions are a critical factor in how we make decisions and even purchases. Pushing emotional hot buttons can cause content to get shared and even go viral.

Trump taps into emotions frequently to spurn controversy and generate publicity. For example, when Holly Holm beat Rhonda Rousey in the UFC championship fight, Trump tweeted that he was glad to see her lose and that Rousey was “not a nice person”. By commenting on trending news, his tweet got over 12,000 retweets and over 2,000 comments.

Rousey also built her personal brand by having a strong personality. Trump’s comments probably also offended diehard Rousey supporters but also drew support from people who didn’t like her.

Note that this tweet had nothing to do with the 2016 election, but was an opportunity for Trump to tap into people’s emotions to continue to generate publicity and get mentioned again in the news.

Trump has repeatedly tapped into similar opportunities by insulting and criticizing other celebrities, famous personalities and organizations, particularly those who opposed him.

Personal branding developed through the years

Before the presidential election in 2016, Trump developed a reputation as a successful billionaire business owner and real estate developer. His constant mainstream media exposure, books and appearance as the host of the Apprentice allowed him to grow his name recognition for years.

His unusual hair-do has even gotten him attention.

Branding has a powerful effect on the choices that we make and that’s why big brands spend so much money on TV advertising. People often make decisions based on brand recognition and that’s why most people, for example, will buy name brand cereals instead of the generic grocery store brand (even if the ingredients are exactly the same).

While sharing his political views has caused many people to view him unfavorably, Trump’s reputation and fame from previous years undoubtedly helped him secure the presidential nomination, gain momentum as a candidate and ultimately allowed him to win the election. So while many people might not approve of Trump, many still think of him as an intelligent business person who may be able to implement positive change in government.

Leveraging social media like Twitter

Being active on social media usually won’t do much for you if you only have a tiny following. However, if you have a large following, it can be an enormous content amplifier. It’s no secret Trump seems to enjoy using Twitter as a channel to voice his opinions and generate ongoing controversy.

Trump has developed a reputation for lashing out against well known politicians and celebrities who don’t support him. Most politicians are careful about personally attacking other people because they want as many people as possible to like them.

However, Trump isn’t afraid to offend people who are supporting his opponents. In his eyes, many of those people will never be his supporters anyways and insulting opponents on social media will result in controversy which further disseminate Trump’s name.

Here’s a list of Trump tweets directed at his opponents and critics during his election campaign

Trump didn’t seem too concerned about maintaining a “presidential” image or reputation. As a result, his tweets got lots of reactions and media coverage.

Is negative publicity Trump’s most powerful tool?

A recent CNN article (March 2018) cites Trump’s approval rating at 43%. While this number is an increase from his January numbers, it is still low and makes him one of the least popular presidents in recent history. For comparison, the average approval rating for presidents 14 months into office was 58%.

But is negative publicity actually Trump’s most powerful tool? It keeps his name in the headlines and on social media, which increases public familiarity with his personal brand.

A study conducted by Jonah Berger and associates at Stanford University showed that negative publicity can deliver positive results if a person or company is relatively unknown.

An example of this is the song Friday by Rebecca Black, which as dubbed by critics as one of the worst songs ever created. The song has accumulated over 118 million views but has over 3 million down votes.

However, Rebecca Black has accumulated over 1.3 million YouTube followers, released other songs that performed better and reportedly has a net worth of 1.5 million.

But Trump was already really famous before running for president. Did negative publicity and controversy help him?

To understand why Trump got elected despite the negative publicity, we need to understand what most voters really care about.

Studies reveal they care about being able to get stable jobs and to make more money for their families. Being able to feel financially secure is perhaps the most important thing on people’s minds during an election.

People also wanted change. The average middle class citizen was disappointed that they had to pay more for health care and wanted someone that would work for the people rather than corporations that funded their campaign.

Trump’s tweets and negative publicity from the news led to people viewing him as unsympathetic and even childish. Some people see him as sexist due to some of his comments against certain females and some people view him as racially discriminatory or unconcerned due to his comments regarding illegal immigrants.

However, the people that voted for him were far more concerned about the ideas that he had for improving the economy and making changes to the system. They were willing to overlook his personality to vote for someone that might make changes to the things that mattered to them. An excellent article by Michael Gerson in The Atlantic describes the phenomenon quite well.

Another thing to note is that negative news often gets more reaction than positive news. That’s why the evening news tends to feature local crime, natural disasters and other negative occurrences. This may be due to an aspect of human psychology called “negativity bias”.

In short, it appears that negative publicity kept people aware of Trump’s name and allowed him to spread his message. His campaign slogan was “Make America Great Again” and his core message was about implementing positive change in the system to improve the economy and help Americans get jobs to support their families. While he did lose the popular vote, enough people in the right places embraced his message and gave him the votes he needed to win the election.

To sum it up…

Maintaining a positive and squeaky clean reputation is important to most people, but Donald Trump seems to thrive on controversy. His approach seems to have served him well enough to date, keeping him in the spotlight and allowing him to beat Hillary Clinton in the 2016 presidential election.

Before running for president, Trump had a reputation of being a hugely successful billionaire and business owner. While many people still respect and support him, other people have developed a less favorable view of Trump due to his approach and also negative media coverage.

So is negative publicity really a “negative”? Will Trump’s approach to publicity and the ensuing reputation it causes help or hurt his chances of winning the next election when he runs against someone more popular than Hillary Clinton? I suppose we’ll find out in 2020.


Trump’s most retweeted –

Note: This editorial content is the opinion of the author.