Exaggeration Persuasion

How President Trump uses a common advertising tactic to win support for his agenda.


During the 2016 election, many people were taken aback by many of then candidate Donald Trumps proclamations; “We’re going to build a wall”, “Bomb the shit out of ISIS”; “A complete and total shutdown on Muslims entering the United States”. To many, these seemed like bombastic, ill-thought proposals. But what they didn’t realize is that President Trump was using a tactic that many advertisers use for a whole range of products: exaggeration.

And it works.

The strategy was best summed up by journalist Olivia Nuzzi, who tweeted just hours after President Trumps victory last November “We took Trump literally, but not seriously. His voters took him seriously, but not literally”. She was right- Trumps voters never expected many if at all of his grandiose plans to come to fruition. But that doesn’t mean that Trump didn’t get his message across, which is the entire point of a campaign, have it be political or non-political.

Think about some of the advertisements you see on TV or hear on radio every single day. When you see a Jeep commercial, you may see footage of the Jeep driving through mountainous terrain and scaling all sorts of obstacles. Nobody who drives a Jeep wants it for this purpose. They want a Jeep to drive to work, pick up their kids from school, and maybe take on a road trip. But the commercial got its point across- which is that Jeeps are versatile vehicles that can brave all sorts of elements.

In advertising, the point is to stand out. Any given company is competing with 5 or more companies selling virtually the exact same product with a different brand name. Their goal, or the advertising agencies goal, is to make their brand unique. Often times, this is achieved through what I call “guided exaggeration”. Consumers are smart enough to realize that what they are seeing on their TV screen is an exaggerated version of what the product can actually do.

In the same way, President Trump sells his messages to voters by exaggerating them. This is how he was able to stand out in a crowded GOP field during the primaries. Almost all of the GOP candidates standing on the debate stage wanted to reform immigration. But Trump wanted a WALL.

I cannot tell you the number of times friends of mine, many of whom are smart people and understand politics, would say to me “You don’t really think he will build a wall do you? Does he have any idea how difficult and costly that would be?”. But Trumps voters never really held him to that standard. All they took away from Trumps message was that he cared about stopping illegal immigration. His sale was the only one they remembered, because it was big, bold, and an exaggeration.

If you think I’m wrong, maybe you would be more convinced if you heard it straight from the source. In Trumps 1987 best selling book “The Art of the Deal”, he admitted that he uses exaggeration as a tactic. He writes, “I call it truthful hyperbole. It’s an innocent form of exaggeration—and a very effective form of promotion.” Truthful hyperbole was a phrase invented by Trumps ghostwriter, Tony Schwartz, but it explains a lot about Trump.

When the President calls CNN “Fake News”, he doesn’t actually believe that everything CNN reports is false. But he’s using that phrase as a way of signalling to his support base that he, like them, has a hatred for the mainstream press and the liberal biases. Its not enough to just say that the press is tilted to the left, you have to exaggerate the claim. In a 24/7 news world, where there is plenty of noise, you have to shout in order to get noticed.

Trump was using these tactics long before he ever thought about running for President. Here’s one example that might blow your mind, and that you may not even know about. Trump Tower was one of his first major real estate projects in Manhatten. The penthouse is on the 68th floor, but there’s one problem- there are only 58 floors in the building. Business Insider reported “It turns out the real-estate-mogul-turned-presidential-candidate frequently misstates the floor counts of his buildings to exaggerate their height without changing the actual numbers.” Trump purposely lied about the number of floors in his building to make it seem taller. You would want to stay on the 17th floor rather than the 7th floor.

The amazing thing about this is that the consumer, have they be families looking for a new vehicle, citizens choosing a candidate for President, or the New York elite looking for a new apartment- rarely care that the seller was telling a lie. By the time they figure out that the claim was exaggerated, they’re already sold.

I’m not here to give any moral judgement to these tactics. I’m simply pointing out the effective ways the President sells his message to the American public.

If his critics would spend less time mocking him, and more time studying his brilliant sales techniques, maybe they wouldn’t be in the powerless predicament they are currently in.

If you’re interested in persuasion and President Trump, head over to a blog written by Dilbert Cartoonist and trained hypnotist Scott Adams. It’s by far the best blog on earth…okay maybe that was an exaggeration  http://www.blog.dilbert.com