Reeves’s bumper-sticker USP for his World War II hero-client was “Eisenhower, Man of Peace.”
Which brings us to Donald Trump. What is Trump’s USP? You could argue that it is effrontery, brashness, faux luxury “branding,” bigotry, and/or the manipulation of citizens’ many resentments vis-a-vis Big Government. But at the end of the day, Trump’s real selling proposition has been entertainment.
That is how he differentiated himself from the 15-odd Republican presidential wannabes who started out alongside him in 2015: They are boring, I am not. Brandishing his schoolboy epithets and his barnyard charm, Trump promised to entertain. The Huffington Post famously reported his campaign as entertainment news.
“Mr. Trump is not running a campaign in the modern sense,” Jim Rutenberg recently wrote in a New York Times article headlined “The Trump Show.” “Rather, he oversees a prolific content production studio that . . . has consistently dominated the ratings and the conversation across the entire new-media landscape — cable news, broadcast news, radio, Twitter, Facebook and who knows what else.”
Yep, that’s entertainment. But suddenly, Trump is becoming less entertaining. His assault on the “Mexican” judge presiding over the Trump University lawsuits feels all wrong. It has been pointed out that even Richard Nixon took his lumps from the Federal judiciary without whining about ethnic prejudice. At least not publicly.
Trump’s media enablers are starting to crack down. The candidate’s many prevarications — OK, lies — once deemed raffishly charming, are being called to account. We learn that, John Kerry-like, he supported US intervention in Libya before he opposed it. He apparently made good on promises to veterans charities only after media inquiries, and so on.
So Trump’s unique selling proposition is crumbling. What about Hillary Clinton? What is her USP?
“Hillary Clinton is a stiff,” Trump opined earlier this month, and he’s right. But that is her USP, and she has remained faithful to it. She’s unflamboyant, calculating, intellectually and emotionally corrupt as the day is long, but she’s been consistently un-entertaining almost as long as she’s been in the public eye.
I couldn’t tell you what Clinton’s campaign slogan is without checking Google. It’s probably “Fighting for You” — or was that Anthony Weiner? What does it matter? Hillary never roams very far from her personality baseline, and, in presidential politics, that’s a good thing.
If Hillary Clinton were a stock, you would buy her, the way you would invest in the phone company, or in Dow Chemical back in the day. (Rosser Reeves coined Dow’s longtime slogan, “Better Living Through Chemistry.”)
Donald Trump’s uniqueness is fast eroding. It may be time to sell.
Alex Beam’s column appears regularly in the Globe. Follow him on Twitter @imalexbeamyrnot.
Correction: An earlier version of this column mischaracterized President Eisenhower’s role in the Korean War.