Has the US Presidential Election Proved that the Power of Celebrity is far From Dead?

Cast your mind back to June 2015, when Donald Trump first announced he was going to campaign to be the official Republican candidate in the 2016 US presidential election. We all laughed. Then think back to only July this year, when he actually managed to get voted in as the Republican representative. Still pretty humorous.

Remember all the funnies along the way? Melania Trump totally plagiarising Michelle Obama’s speech? When Marco Rubio made the “small hands” comment, and we had to hear Trump reassure us that there was no problem with his size? Ewww. Right through to hearing him utter those words so calmly, I quote, “no one respects women more than I do”? Oh, and the wall! We can never forget the wall!

However as his campaign started to gather momentum, and the celebrity candidate actually seemed to be resonating with a part of America that felt they were unheard, we all started to ponder the same question. Could this actually happen? Could Donald Trump actually become the next US President? Could another Simpson’s parody come to life once again? Last month, the creator of the show, Matt Groening, told The Guardian: “We predicted that he would be president back in 2000 – Trump was of course the most absurd placeholder joke name that we could think of at the time, and that’s still true. It’s beyond satire.”

Well today we know the answer. He could and he has. A man that has zero political credentials has made it to the White House. During the BBC coverage this morning, an interesting question was posed; if he were not Donald Trump, the business man, the reality TV star, the celebrity; would he still have been successful in his campaign? Or if another candidate replicated his approach, his words, and his attitude entirely, would they have achieved the same results? Debatable.

As PR’s, we are increasingly advising that the use of celebrities is pretty much dead. The catastrophic surge in reality TV programmes and such “stars”, has led consumers to be less engaged with the authenticity behind brands using celebrities. Particularly those that have no clear alignment. We are increasingly finding that the campaigns that gain real traction and cut through, are those involving what we are now deeming “influencers”. Much of the time, these are often people born through social media pr, who have gathered a following based on their expertise, passion and skill set. If you want food inspiration, you’ll check out your favourite Foodstagrammer. If you want some workout inspiration, you’ll click over to your favourite Fitstagrammer. Real people, with real knowledge are becoming are go-to place for news and inspiration. A pretty positive movement in media, I say.

With this in mind, we have to question how a celebrity has managed to pull this off. Because that is what Donald Trump is. If we truly believe that the celebrity status is dead, in terms of marketing and PR influence, how has a man of Donald Trump’s calibre won this election? If we truly believe that consumers, and in this case voters, want authenticity, Hillary Clinton should have been a sure winner.

For people outside of the USA, and maybe even some of those there, it may not be completely apparent that she was not simply Bill Clinton’s wife. She has led a pretty enviable political career, serving as United States Senator in New York from 2001 – 2011, and then as the 67th United States Secretary of State from 2009 – 2013. Not only that, but for me as a woman, she has delivered some of the most progressive principles of our time on women’s rights, and human rights. The compelling words of her 1995 Beijing speech still ring true today, and are cited as a key historical moment in the empowerment of women. Forget her husband’s naughties, who are we to judge, and the whole email debacle; she is clearly a smart and compelling politician, with good intentions.

So where did it all go wrong? Or for his party, right? And as PR’s, are we becoming too dismissive of individuals with celebrity credentials in this digital age? Donald Trump’s 2016 US presidential election is one that has been played out against all of the PR rules. I mean, can you imagine being Trump’s campaign advisor? Or one of his PR people? Trying to counsel best on how to mop up some of the many, many verbal disasters we have witnessed over the months? It’s the kind of stuff that PR nightmares are made of. And literally nightmares for PR’s!

But it worked. Just as Hillary’s “human rights are women’s rights are human rights” speech will go down in history, so will Wednesday 9th November. The day that Donald Trump indeed actually became the 45th President of the United States.

Our consumer lifestyle social media PR team specialise in connecting everyday brands with everyday people across four core sectors; Consumer Lifestyle PR, Food & Drink PR, Consumer Technology PR and Sport, Health & Wellbeing PR. More information on these areas of knowledge can be found at www.escapadepr.com/about-us.