When a man loves a wall

Sam Palin
10 June 2016

You may have heard that Donald Trump wants to build a wall between Mexico and the United States. He’s very fond of his wall:

We’re going to build a beautiful wall.

I will build a great, great wall on our southern border.

You build strong, tall, beautiful walls to keep people out who don’t belong.

Donald Trump talks this way about lots of things. He talks about ‘my beautiful family’ and ‘wonderful endorsements’.

Some people have called this language ‘feminine’. I’m not a huge fan of that description, but it’s probably fair to say Trump’s language is more emotive – and more aesthetic – than that of other politicians.

Trump pairs these ‘soft’ words with tough rhetoric. His words are a velvet glove over an iron fist. Just look at that last example again: You build strong, tall, beautiful walls to keep people out who don’t belong.

If Donald Trump had different views, his ‘soft’ language would put people off. The power and meaning of a word depends on who’s saying it, and what for.

And that’s something a lot of brands forget.

 

Duck, duck, goose

‘We want to sound like Apple.’

Every copywriter in the world has heard that sentence at least once. Sometimes it’s Nike. Occasionally it’s Innocent, or Pret, or Airbnb.

There’s no problem with having a role model, of course. But often, what that question really means is, ‘We want to be Apple’. It’s not about what Apple says: it’s about how much they love their iPhone.

I have some bad news for you: an Apple-flavoured voice won’t magically turn you into the world’s biggest company.

But it’s more than that. Say you really do have great, simple products with beautiful user interfaces and big price tags. You’re still unlikely to thrive by sounding like Apple – because you’re not Apple. The fact is, they got there first. Even if you do things just as well – even if you do them better – you’ll always sound like a copy.

If it walks like a duck, and talks like a duck, a lot of people may still notice that it’s a goose.

 

The real McCoy

Which brings me back to The Donald.

Authenticity is the magic sauce of politics. It’s elusive. Bill Clinton and George Bush had it; Mitt Romney didn’t. It doesn’t have much to do with how nice you are, or whether you tell the truth.

Brands are also on a desperate mission to sound authentic. Normally, they are told to ‘be honest’ and ‘have real conversations with their customers’, and other fluffy things that brands do in the 21st century.

But I think this misses the point. Donald Trump’s faults are many: he lies, deflects, distorts and bullies. But he has a style – one he sticks to even when it’s not working. Even when half the Western world is laughing at him.

For all those faults, he is himself. No one advises a politician to describe their border wall as ‘beautiful’, or to copy the hairstyle of an aristocratic llama. He made those decisions all on his own.

Authenticity isn’t about truth, or informality. It’s about one thing: being yourself.

If the way you talk comes from who you are, you’re never going to sound like Apple. You’re never going to sound like anyone but you. And that’s OK. It’s better than OK. As Donald might put it, you’re beautiful.

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