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March 8, 2017

Trump and the dark side of storytelling

A saying which hits the famous nail right on its head: “Those who tell the stories rule the world.” A short glance over the Atlantic is enough to determine the truth of these words: Donald J. Trump is president of the United States of America. This is particularly noteworthy since he as a businessman and political outsider has managed to become the most powerful man in the world. Taking a closer look at his campaign, it becomes clear quite quickly how he made it happen. His messages have been very well received by the American people. He uses techniques that work immediately in the human brain: stories! Now follows an insight into the dark side of storytelling.

Fear instead of hope: The dark side of storytelling

Donald J. Trump is a born entertainer. He has spent decades in public and knows how to arouse emotions. And this is the crux of the matter: Trump uses techniques which are set in the dark times of marketing – the opposite of storytelling. Whereas the idea of storytelling is based on empowering and encouraging the target group – in this case the voters – to help them achieve their self-realization, scaring the target group was an art of the dark marketing.

In this sense he created an extreme enemy image of America to scare his voters. He warned them of Hilary Clinton, “fake News”, and the Mexicans, and also presented a dystopic worldview, which would plunge America into ruin, if he was not elected. He let himself rise like a phoenix from the ashes and presented himself as the nation’s savior.

Getting into the voter’s mind by the use of simple language

Donald J. Trump says what he really thinks – the typical „realdonaldtrump“. This does not only become clear by what he says but also by the way he says it. His rhetoric lives from short sentences and many repetitions. Trump basically uses the language of a fourth grader. And this is exactly what he scores with. Because it is always the simple and concrete language which names things in an understandable manner. Lets take an example:

On 25th May 1961, John F. Kennedy announced in his first speech in front of the American Congress:

The United States should set itself the goal of letting a man land on the moon before the end of this decade and bringing him safely back to earth.“

Most CEOs would have phrased this idea differently:

“It is our mission to become the world leader in the aerospace industry through team- centered innovation and strategically focused aerospace initiatives.“

Trump on the other hand might would have said:

“We are the best. America is the best nation in the world. We have the best men for a moon mission. Everyone else will fail.“

Trump uses simple measures of communication which make it as easy as possible for his voters to understand the main points of his idea. This way, his words remain stuck in his listeners’ heads.

Good vs. bad storytelling

One example for good storytelling was the election campaign of Barack Obama. Trump created an image of fear and took a pessimistic look at the future in case someone else would be president. Obama instead used an optimistic manner of speaking. He spoke of hope and the positive image of America that he believes in. You can find a precise analysis of a comparison of Donald J. Trump’s, Barack Obama’s and George W. Bush’s languages here. Finally another word about stories and their truthfulness: good stories should be true. Storytelling should not sugarcoat lies and dishonesties – otherwise we would talk about “fairytelling” and manipulation.

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Stefanie Möser
Senior-Beraterin bei Mashup Communications

Ein Prise Gelassenheit, eine große Ladung Humor und viel Herz und Verstand: Das ist Steffis Geheimrezept für die perfekte Team-Power. Ihre Top-Tools sind immer griffbereit: Stift und Papier, denn die besten Geschichten finden sich nicht am Büro-Schreibtisch.