Social media has made everyone a brand and everyone a brander. Do you register on your social graph as snarky or heartwarming? What reflects you better, driving a Jeep or a BMW? Audiences have an innate understanding that a brand's public expressions, the company it keeps, and what others say about it imbue it with characteristics and attributes.
Presidential candidates are the ultimate American brands. In pre-literate eras, their brands were expressed through cartoons and posters. They've since evolved to campaign buttons, brochures, ads, logos, taglines, and theme songs. Like all brands, candidates reflect a coherent set of concepts that are the sum of:
- Identity - what they stand for
- Image - what they represent
- Aspiration - how they make audiences feel
BRAND DISCOVERY THROUGH ARCHETYPES
To understand a brand's essence you must find its true brand personality or persona. A simple, intuitive, and clarifying construct to reveal personas taps the long-standing storytelling character device -- the archetype. Archetypes have been prevalent through our earliest oral and written storytelling traditions, populating mythology and literature. Plato wrote about seminal characters, which have recurred in some of the greatest stories of all time. Achilles, from Greek mythology and Superman are both "The Hero." Little John in Robin Hood and Chewbacca in Star Wars are both "The Regular Guy."
Carl G. Jung identified and described seven universal archetypes in his Archetypal Theory that symbolize basic human needs, aspirations, and motivations. In 2001, Margaret Mark and Carol Pearson applied Jungian archetypal storytelling and psychology to brand identity in The Hero and the Outlaw, identifying 12 familiar brand archetypes or personas.
Check out all 12 archetypes -- mapped along two continua along the Y and X axes -- revealing four groupings of human motivations.
Where do the presidential nominees and their VP picks land among these archetypes? The candidates' true personas blend their personalities with their core ideologies. You may identify more than one archetype at play in each candidate, but one persona is always dominant. And you'll see that both the Republican and Democratic nominees have chosen running mates who complement their personas. (For details of all 12 archetypes and to learn how to discover a brand's identity, see Transmedia Marketing: From Film and TV to Games and Digital Media.)
PERSONAS OF THE REPUBLICAN CANDIDATES
Donald Trump - "The Ruler"
Donald Trump is clearly "The Ruler" persona - a powerful leader who can be either good or evil. Trump runs his business empire (and ran The Apprentice reality show) with absolute power. To make America prosper, he expects to rule the county in the same top-down, authoritarian style.
Trump's unabashed about his singular power, claiming "I am the only one who can make America truly great again!" And, he sees himself as the only one who can stabilize an unsteady ship: "No one knows the system better than me, which is why I alone can fix it." David Boaz, EVP of the Libertarian think tank, Cato Institute, supports this autocratic designation. "We have one candidate who's not even pretending -- he is promising to be a one-man ruler."
Trump boldly plays out this persona by uttering un-PC criticisms and ad hominems about his enemies and people he sees as "other" or a threat. This is particularly attractive to America First-ers. His critics view his leadership style as too extreme, calling him a "dictator," "bully," and "demagogue." These reproaches are fueled by his public admiration of leaders such as Vladimir Putin and Saddam Hussein.
You might see elements of the "The Jester" (the comical truthsayer) in Trump because of his over-the-top comments. Or, you may see his disruptiveness as signs of "The Outlaw" (anti-establishment freedom seeker, which Bernie Sanders truly embodies). But in the end, Trump's dominant persona is "The Ruler."
"The Ruler"- an archetype of Security and Control: StabilityA powerful leader. Part of the establishment. Sets the rules that others play by. Can be benevolent or evil.
Examples: Star Wars character -- Darth Vader, Microsoft, The New York Times, Universal, IBM, Mercedes, American Express, British Airways, Barclays
- Motto: Power isn't everything; it's the only thing
- Core desire: Control
- Goal: To create a prosperous, successful family or community
- Greatest fear: Chaos or being overthrown
- Strategy: Exercises power
- Gift: Responsibility or leadership
- Trap: Authoritarianism or dictatorship; inability to delegate
- AKA: The boss, leader, aristocrat, king, queen, politician, role model, manager, or administrator
- Fits if it: Is a high-status brand used by powerful people to enhance their power; Makes people more organized; Offers a lifetime guarantee; Empowers people to maintain or enhance their grip on power; Has a regulatory or protective function; Is moderately to high priced; Can be differentiated from more populist brands or one that is a clear leader in the field; Is a market leader that offers a sense of security and stability in a chaotic world
Given the concerns about Trump's despotic and loose cannon persona, it's no surprise that Trump (or his party) chose a safe, more predictable running mate in Mike Pence. Pence is "The Sage" persona -- a provider of intellectual solutions through research and diligence.
A former Indiana staffer bolsters this persona, saying Pence "likes to chew over an issue extensively before presenting it to the public, and wants to hear from multiple sides before making up his mind."
In addition to the social conservative cred and ties to the Koch brothers that Pence lends to the Trump ticket, he offers an almost "boring" offset to Trump's flamboyance. "He balances Mr. Trump out in terms of personalities," says political science professor Andrew Downs, director of the Center for Indiana Politics at Indiana University-Purdue University in Fort Wayne. "He is Midwestern polite. He's also very good at staying on message."
But as an absolute ruler, will Trump mine the considerable value of and give voice to Pence's "The Sage"?
"The Sage" -- an archetype of Independence and Fulfillment: IndividualismProvides intellectual solutions to problems. Offers expertise and advice. Has serious objective tone. Finds truth through research, objectivity, and diligence.
Examples: Star Wars character -- Yoda, CNN, Ask.com, Intel, Gallup, McKinsey & Co., Harvard University, Oprah's Book Club, Philips, HSBC, Albert Einstein
- Motto: The truth will set you free
- Core desire: To find the truth
- Goal: To use intelligence and analysis to understand the world
- Greatest fear: Ignorance, or being duped or misled
- Strategy: Seeks out information and knowledge; self-reflects and understands thought processes
- Gift: Wisdom or intelligence
- Trap: Dogmatism or studying details forever without acting
- AKA: The expert, scholar, detective, advisor, thinker, philosopher, academic, researcher, planner, professional, mentor, teacher, or contemplator
- Fits if it: Provides expertise or information to others; Encourages audiences to think; Is based on new scientific findings or esoteric knowledge; Is supported by research-based facts; Can be differentiated from others whose quality or performance is suspect
PERSONAS OF THE DEMOCRATIC CANDIDATES
Hillary Clinton's appearance at the Democratic National Convention crystallized her "The Hero" persona -- a strong change maker who benefits others. She exuded the "White Knight" -- literally and figuratively -- when she accepted the nomination.
Throughout the election, Clinton has touted her legacy of public service -- including law school service projects, children's health care reform, and post-9/11 funding -- as improving the world. Forbes attributes her achievement of that track record to "persistence, strong will or sheer determination." Bill Clinton reinforced this crusader persona in his spouse-in-chief speech, recalling her accomplishments and naming her "the best darn change maker I ever met in my life."
But Clinton's extensive service record can play as a recitation of her resume, rather than a heartfelt expression of her deep-seated empathy. Her critics call her "cold" and "arrogant" -- possible results of her single-minded focus or falling prey to the "The Hero's" trap of hubris. Clinton acknowledges that disconnect: "Throughout all these years of public service, the service part has always come easier to me than the public part."
So, it's no surprise that Chelsea Clinton introduced her mother to the DNC as a warrior, but wrapped in a highly personal package. "My mother, my hero, our next President: Hillary Clinton."
You may see elements of "The Sage" in Clinton because of her serious tone and command of facts, or "The Explorer" (challenges themselves and others to do new things) because of her never-ending causes. Still, she and her machine have cast her dominant persona as "The Hero."
"The Hero" -- an archetype of Risk and Mastery: ChangeProves self through amazing physical acts. Strong, but uses a controlled strength to benefit others.
Examples: Star Wars character -- Luke Skywalker, Jerry Bruckheimer's programming, US Army, Nike, FedEx, BMW, Home Depot, Ford, Tag Heuer, Duracell, Land Rover
- Motto: Where there's a will, there's a way
- Core desire: To prove one's worth through courageous acts
- Goal: Expert mastery in a way that improves the world
- Greatest fear: Weakness, vulnerability, or being cowardly
- Strategy: Is as strong and competent as possible
- Gift: Courage or competence
- Trap: Arrogance or always needing another battle to fight
- AKA: The warrior, crusader, rescuer, superhero, soldier, dragon slayer, winner, or MVP
- Fits if it: Has inventions or innovations that will have a major impact on the world; Helps people be all they can be; Solves a major social problem or encourages others to do so; Has a clear opponent to beat; Is an underdog or challenger brand; Is strong and helps people do tough jobs exceptionally well; Can be differentiated from competitors that have problems following through or keeping their promises; Has audiences that see themselves as good, upstanding citizens
To counter the uncharismatic and harsher aspects of her persona, Clinton has reinforced the "heartland" roots and values she shares with her warm and easy-going Veep running mate, Tim Kaine. Kaine is "The Regular Guy" persona -- a friendly, humble, guy next door.
Kaine's accessibility is evident in his natural speaking style and quick smile, appealing to the working man and woman. When describing his considerable public career during his DNC speech -- from mayor to U.S. Senator -- he visibly fought his corn-fed humility. Social media latched on to his good-guy persona with a rash of "Dad jokes." @ericschroeck Tweeted, "I just want Tim Kaine to make me some scrambled eggs when I'm sad and ask me, 'What's wrong, scout?'"
A huge value of Kaine's avuncular persona is that he's the antithesis of a braggart or bully. That allows him to extol the virtues of Clinton's accomplishments and to take down Trump-the-bully with good-natured impunity: "You know who I don't trust? Donald Trump. The guy promises a lot. He has a habit of saying the same two words right after he makes his biggest promises: Believe me. His creditors, his contractors, his laid-off employees, his ripped-off students did just that, and they all got hurt."
So far, Clinton and her party have quarried the benefit of Kaine's "The Regular Guy."
"The Regular Guy" -- an archetype of Belonging and Enjoyment: CommunityIs down-to-earth and accessible. Bonds with others by being humble, hard working, and friendly.
Examples: Star Wars character -- Chewbacca, Disney (later), eBay, Lowes, Dunkin' Donuts, Miller Beer, Sonic, Walmart, Cover Girl, Chevy, Wendy's
- Motto: All men and women are created equal
- Core desire: Connecting with others
- Goal: To belong
- Greatest fear: Being left out or standing out from the crowd
- Strategy: Develops ordinary solid virtues; is real; applies the common touch
- Gift: Equality, realism, empathy, or humility
- Trap: Blending in or becoming a lynch mob
- AKA: The Average Joe, good-ole-boy, girl-next-door, everyman, working stiff, solid citizen, good neighbor, mensch, realist, or silent majority
- Fits if it: Gives people a sense of belonging; Offers everyday functionality; Is low to moderately priced; Is produced by a solid company with a down-home organizational culture; Can be positively differentiated from more elitist or higher priced brands
What's most noteworthy about this campaign is that the "negative sentiment" for both of the presidential nominees is the highest in any modern presidential election in the past seven decades -- since Barry Goldwater.
These polarizing negatives reflect voters' concerns and distrust of the nominees falling into their personas' traps. The Achilles' heel for Donald Trump, "The Ruler," is authoritarianism or dictatorship and inability to delegate. The Achilles' heel for Hillary Clinton, "The Hero," is arrogance and always needing another battle to fight.
But in the end, our next president will be determined in the general election by how much voters believe that each candidate can deliver on their persona's brand promise.
Anne Zeiser is a critically-acclaimed transmedia and social impact producer and media strategist. She's stewarded films and iconic series for PBS, produced news for CBS, managed national brands for marketing firms, and founded Azure Media, which develops transmedia projects on air, online, and on the go that fuel social impact in communities, in schools, and in capitals. With media partners from PBS and the BBC to Miramax and Sikelia Productions, Zeiser has successfully launched and marketed film studios and media organizations, feature and documentary films, television series and specials, mobile games and apps, and online video and media communities. She's the author of Transmedia Marketing: From Film and TV to Games and Digital Media from Focal Press' American Film Market® Presents book series.