How Donald Trumps Facts With Feelings

The truth of the matter is truth doesn't matter.

Posted Jan 23, 2017

While many have criticized Donald Trump for his lack of truth during his campaign for the presidency, few will question his ability to rile up strong emotions among his supporters. No matter which candidate you voted for, there is one hard reality we all must face. When it comes to campaigns, whether it’s for a product or for a president, the fact of the matter is that facts don’t really matter. The decision to vote for a president or purchase a product is born not by virtue of reasoning but by reflex of feeling.

Researchers at Ryerson University and the University of Toronto demonstrated this phenomenon in a study that exposed participants to several hypothetical brands presented with hundreds of negative or positive pictures and words. While the participants were unable to recognize whether or not a brand had been paired with either negative or positive images or words, they did develop a preference for the brands to which they had been positively conditioned. The experimenters called it the “I like it and don’t know why effect.”

In a subsequent experiment, the researchers presented product facts that contradicted the prior conditioning. They found that the participants still selected the products that were positively emotionally conditioned despite being aware of the inferior product attributes.

Similarly University of Southern California researchers recently conducted a study that found that participants are less likely to change their opinions on political issues than apolitical ones when presented with contradictory information. The study suggests that the political beliefs of participants had become emotionally linked to their personal identity and sense of community.

The study conducted by the Brain and Creativity Institute at USC and Project Reason examined the activation of different brain parts when these strongly held political beliefs were being challenged.

“The insular cortex is a part of the brain that processes feelings from the body,” said Sarah Gimbel, a co-author of the study. “We know from other research that it’s important for emotion and emotional salience—like how emotionally important something is to you. The fact that we saw increased activation in this region…shows us when we feel threatened or anxious or emotional that we’re less likely to change our minds about these strongly held beliefs.”

Donald Trump tapped into a growing community of angry voters by riding a groundswell of anti-government disdain and anti-immigrant anxiety never before seen in American politics. He didn’t just win; he did so with a level of efficiency that is unprecedented. Trump has artfully reminded us that he has spent less money on his campaign yet he did better than the other candidates, suggesting that he will do the same when running the country.

It should come as no surprise then that Donald Trump had run the most effective campaign, despite a long list of false facts or questionable truths. This may also explain Trump’s tendency to ignore or embellish the facts to mold reality, however far-fetched, to his purpose at hand.

Ryan Pouncy/
Source: Ryan Pouncy/

Now that the campaign is over and the presidency has begun let’s remember there are two parts to the marketing equation: getting people to buy your product and having your product perform to the satisfaction of the buying public.

There is a popular adage in marketing that states, "Nothing kills a bad product faster than good advertising”. Good marketing can make people buy what you’re selling but if the product isn’t good, the people will reject you. Now that Trump is in the White House, let’s all hope that the Trump product is as effective as the Trump brand.

If you would like to learn more about how emotions drive decisions, check out my book:

Unconscious Branding: How Neuroscience Can Empower (and Inspire) Marketing

Or follow me on Twitter: