Sunday, August 28, 2016

Something to Know - 28 August

Steve Breen

There are enough stories and articles in today's news that inspire one to publish them all.   The money that buys the politicians who pass on the laws for corporate special interests (Big Pharma, hedge fund carried interest, etc) are plentiful and need more awareness by our electorate.   Then there is the staggering lack of political astuteness by the general public voters, that is very scary.  However, if I have just one to write about, it is this following contribution from the New Yorker, and it addresses the current tango-two-step by Trump to soften his public perception.   Comparing his latest moves to the corporate rebranding by McDonalds is accurate.  The perception of the product is to be altered, but it is the same old unhealthy bill of fare.   This is fortunate for Hillary Clinton, since she could be put into a glaring spotlight to answer to some of her perceptions, but Trumpy is so over burdened with his own mess that his dancing detracts from any spotlight on her.  The other problem is that McDonalds had a 10-year program for rebranding; Trump has a couple of months, and endless hours of video clips that highlight all of the reasons why he needs to rebrand.  No matter what Trump tries to change, there is an armada of negative sound bytes and video that remind us why he is not fit for the job.

Donald Trump the businessman appears to understand the need for rebranding. Since he reshuffled his campaign team last week, his tone has changed.

 By John Cassidy , AUGUST 26, 2016

Donald Trump, Inc., is badly lagging the competition, losing market share, alarming its financial backers, and being portrayed by its main rival as a toxic product that incites hatred and bigotry. From a business perspective, there is no doubt what is needed: a major rebranding campaign.

Trump the businessman appears to understand this. Since he reshuffled his campaign team last week, his tone has changed. He has given a speech saying he regretted some of his offensive utterances. He has reached out to Hispanic leaders in a meeting in New York. And he has hinted that he is dropping—or at least reworking—his proposal to round up and deport millions of undocumented immigrants.

In the past few days, though, this rebranding process has encountered resistance. Some of Trump's most vocal supporters—among them Ann Coulter and Sarah Palin—have expressed outrage at the suggestion that he might propose allowing some undocumented people to stay in the United States legally. Trump seems to be vacillating.

Talking with Fox News's Bill O'Reilly earlier this week, Trump appeared to be edging toward a deportation policy not much different from the one adopted by the Obama Administration. "What people don't know is that Obama got tremendous numbers of people out of the country," he said. "Lots of people were brought out of the country with the existing laws. Well, I'm going to do the same thing." Then, speaking to CNN on Thursday night, he backtracked, saying that under a Trump Administration all undocumented immigrants would have to leave the country before applying for legal status.

The troubles Trump is encountering would be familiar to many troubled corporations and branding consultants. In many rebrandings, there is a tension between the urgent need to change public perceptions of the company and the danger of alienating existing customers and stakeholders.

A successful rebranding campaign has to have two elements. It must be surprising enough to attract people's attention and make them think again about a company or product. And it must be credible. Back in 2000, British Petroleum, with the help of the advertising agency Ogilvy & Mather, launched a new public-relations campaign under the slogan "Beyond Petroleum." The company ballyhooed its investments in clean energy and changed its logo to an environmentally friendly green and yellow sunburst.

This exercise never passed the credibility test. In 2005, a BP-owned refinery in Texas blew up, killing twenty-five people; in 2006, a pipeline owned by BP failed in Prudhoe Bay, Alaska, spilling hundreds of thousands of gallons of crude; and, in 2010, the BP-owned Deepwater Horizon rig blew up in the Gulf of Mexico, resulting in a huge oil spill that threatened the entire Gulf Coast. Six years later, BP is still struggling to recover from a huge hit to its finances and reputation.

The "Beyond Petroleum" fiasco proved that you can't deny who you are. Trump is Trump. There isn't much point trying to market him as a kind and cuddly figure: nobody would believe it. But that doesn't mean Trump can't take other steps, such as signalling a willingness to be more flexible and to adapt to changed circumstances. Until very recently, he had been campaigning as if he were still engaged in the G.O.P. primaries, and his divisive rhetoric was alienating many voters, particularly minorities, moderate Republicans, and women—demographics he needs in order to have any chance of defeating Hillary Clinton.

If he's looking for guidance from the corporate world, Trump could do worse than reading up on the recent history of McDonald's. In the early two-thousands, the world's largest fast-food chain was facing big challenges. With consumers becoming more discerning and health-conscious, its business model of selling cheap, fried, artery-clogging fare had come under heavy fire, with critics such as Eric Schlosser, the author of "Fast Food Nation," attacking its products, its cooking methods, and its treatment of its employees. McDonald's sales growth was flagging, and so was its stock price.

The company launched a major rebranding campaign. Adopting the slogan "I'm loving it," McDonald's promoted a healthier line of products, which included salads with low-fat dressing and slices of apple known as Apple Dippers. To some people, the idea of McDonald's selling salads and fruit appeared revolutionary, although, in fact, some of its stores had been offering side salads since the late nineteen-eighties. What was genuinely new was the image McDonald's sought to convey in its ads. Out were the Golden Arches and Quarter Pounders dripping with fat. In their place: slim hipsters sitting in lofts nibbling on lettuce and bits of fruit.

It was all partly a con, of course. As McDonald's broadened its menu choices, it still sold huge amounts of unhealthy fried food. Indeed, under the guise of its Dollar Menu, which it marketed to youngsters and low-income groups, it sold even more of its traditional fare. In 2006, an article in the Times noted that McDonald's turnaround came "not from greater sales of healthy foods but from selling more fast-food basics, like double cheeseburgers and fried chicken sandwiches, from the Dollar Menu." The rebranding effort undoubtedly worked, though. The McDonald's stock price, after falling below thirteen dollars in 2003, rose to more than fifty dollars by 2007. Today, it stands at about a hundred and fifteen dollars.

McDonald's rebranding was effective because it challenged perceptions of the company without undermining its core value proposition: cheapness and convenience. But, in order to succeed, McDonald's had to go beyond offering low-fat dressings and Apple Dippers. Successful rebranding is a long-term process. In the United Kingdom, McDonald's pledged to use real beef in its burgers and organic milk in its shakes. Last year, in response to concerns about the inhumane treatment of battery hens, McDonald's USA announced a ten-year plan to transition to cage-free eggs.

Trump doesn't have ten years, of course: he has just over ten weeks. So what should he do? If his overriding goal is defeating Hillary Clinton, the answer is clear. He doesn't have enough dedicated supporters to carry him to victory. The only option is to change things up in an effort to expand his market share.

Given how central immigration has been to Trump's campaign, announcing a more humane approach toward the undocumented could send a forceful signal that he is willing to compromise, and to reach out to voters who have concerns about him. Would it be entirely credible? Of course not. Many voters will continue to associate Trump with his comments about Mexican murderers and rapists coming to the United States. But Trump isn't trying to win over everybody. If he could boost his support by three or four per cent in the national polls and pick up ground in Florida, it would make the race a lot more competitive.

He'd also need to do some damage control with his base, of course. If he does change tack on deportations, he could also make clear that he still intends to build a wall across the southern border, and to make it much harder for foreigners from other parts of the world, particularly Muslims, to get into the United States. Indeed, he could offer more specifics on these proposals. (That would be Trump's equivalent of the Dollar Menu.)

Would such a stunt work? Given how far Trump has fallen behind in states like Colorado, Pennsylvania, and Washington, probably not. But it may represent his only shot, and a number of his advisers evidently realize this. Kellyanne Conway, the veteran Republican polling expert he brought on as his campaign manager, is reportedly pushing for a U-turn on immigration, and so is Chris Christie.

But a big question mark still hangs over Trump, the same one I raised when he brought Conway and Steve Bannon, the head of Breitbart News, into his campaign. Is he in it to win? Or is his real goal to build up the Trump brand among conservatives and ultra-conservatives, perhaps with the ultimate ambition of launching a media venture?

If Trump's only focus is the White House, he'll go ahead with the rebranding and immigration-policy overhaul, even if it angers the Coulters and Palins of the world. If winning is a secondary concern, it might make more sense to stick with his existing policy and preserve his image as a conservative renegade. At the moment, he appears to want it both ways.


Donald Trump and the National Rifle Association  aid and abet violence.

- An American Story

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