Donald Trump has made a career, and has been attempting to make a case for the presidency, using smart, albeit dangerous and hateful, marketing and persuasive tools. Using scarcity, scare tactics, and outright lies, he has taken a seemingly impossible campaign all the way to Super Tuesday.
To date, this is Trump’s biggest venture yet – as it related to popular culture, not in the business or criminal world. (SN: the fact that I can confidently refer to a presidential campaign as a pop culture venture is both hilarious and frightening.) But before this, there was The Apprentice.
In The Apprentice, Trump served as host while ambitious (albeit unknown) professionals from the business world compete for a chance at a job within Trump’s organization. It was here where Trump began nurturing his craft of political showmanship that he would use years later.
As a host and co-producer of the show, he lied about the show’s ratings and even dabbled in some racism and anti-Semitism from time to time. He once went so far as pitching an Apprentice season in which black contestants were put against white contestants. His behavior on air, in retrospect, showcased what would to come from him while on the campaign trail. On the show, he consistently pitted team members against each other, promoted antagonism, and had a penchant for bullying and name-calling.
Here’s the kicker. Here’s the most important similarity between Trump’s time on The Apprentice, and his campaign: he knew his audience. He knew what worked. That alone is why both were so successful.
Knowing Your Audience
It’s a guarantee that Trump knew his audience well on The Apprentice. At it’s core, it’s a reality show. Controversy sells, provocativeness sells, larger than life personalities sell. People don’t watch reality television for it’s plot or the fact they genuinely care about the lives of the cast; they watch it for the drama, the fights, the absurdity. From the first episode of season one, Trump was all over it.
The same goes for his campaign. Trump understood that a large group of Americans – mostly white and working class – felt left out in the cold in the age of America’s first Black president. In an age of government bailouts for multimillion dollar corporations and marriage equality for the LGBTQI community, this ground felt like everyone was getting something except them. Because the political establishment had largely turned their backs on this group, Trump sensed it was time to take advantage and mobilize this group’s collective power into a seat in the Oval Office.
Controlling Your Audience
Once, you know and understand your audience, you can begin controlling your audience. In this election, Trump has shown that he can be the master puppeteer and ringleader. The way he’s been able to galvanize an entire group that has mostly swore off politics into being enamored with politics is remarkable. This comes primarily from his keen understanding of his audience. If you promise anything politically to a group of people who have cast away by all other politicians, of course they’re going to listen and believe you; they have nothing and no one else to believe in.
If you understand your audience, you understand what they want to see, hear, and even possibly, have. Power – perceived or real – is a hell of a drug. Through that you can control people into believing or doing almost anything. Trump began this on The Apprentice when he pitted teams and team members against each other, instigating fights and disagreements that caused rifts in teams, leading to their ultimate downfall.
Controlling The Narrative
Once you understand your audience and begin to control them, then you can finally control the narrative, which is exactly what Trump has done.
If you can convince a group that the media is biased and liars, of course they won’t believe the media when they say you’re lying. Media outlets tear down all of Trump’s claims with facts and his supporters completely ignore it and deny, deny, deny. Why is that? Because he’s been able to convince them, through persuasive appeals, that he’s more trustworthy and reputable than media outlets. He’s been able to convince them that everyone that doesn’t support them is against them – and will do whatever necessary to stop their momentum, including lying, cheating, and stealing.
God help us all on Tuesday, November 8, 2016.