Donald J. Trump for America, “Movement”

Transcript

“It’s a movement, not a campaign.” the narrator says. “Its leader-Donald Trump. Builder, businessman, success. Doing what others called impossible. Donald Trump’s priority: you. Dreaming big. Building bigger. United for family, jobs, country. Defined by freedom. Standing together, pushing ahead. Leaving the past behind. Change our future. Together, we’ll make America great again. I’m Donald Trump and I approve this message.”

Ad Analysis
Prashanth Bhat & Kyle Stephan, University of Maryland

Ad Context and Introduction

In a sharp contrast to his campaign rhetoric in which he repeatedly asserted that “he alone can fix” the problems faced by the American society, republican nominee Donald Trump embraced a more collectivist approach by calling on voters to come together to “Make America Great Again.” [1] In Trump’s ad titled, “Movement,” the largely positive commercial appears to counter Hillary Clinton’s accusation that Trump has a “go-it-alone” mentality.[2] In this analysis, we argue that the “Movement” advertisement serves to project Donald Trump as a “successful leader” who can bring Americans from different walks of life together in his “movement” to rebuild the country, provide jobs, and restore freedom and American pride. In other words, this ad leverages public confidence by posing Trump as leading and epitomizing his grassroots movement. Trump in this ad, we argue, acts as the leader of the average American and subsumes all wishes, hopes, and potential successes of everyday voters.

It is noteworthy that Mr. Trump accused Hillary Clinton of running negative ads against him and threatened to sue her campaign for what he considered “false commercials.”[3] Meanwhile, the media perceived the ads the Trump campaign released as equally negative in tone and harshly critical of Mrs. Clinton. We contend that “Movement” represents a fantasy-genre commercial laced with audio and visual elements of energy and hope, and is relatively positive in tone, which makes it easily distinguishable from the attack ads released by the Trump campaign. The ad’s positive tone attributes voter confidence to Trump as the ultimate leader of average Americans, who bring energy and hope to his grassroots voters.

Content

“Movement” was noticed for its distinct positive tone, unlike previous Trump campaign ads where the media focused on the lack of money Trump spent on his commercials in the 2016 general election. For instance, The New York Times wrote, “Movement “strikes a balance between energetic and uplifting feel that allows Mr. Trump to say he’s running on a positive message, while still offering his fervent supporters a negative image of Mrs. Clinton.”[4] USA Today in a similar assessment quipped, “The 30-second TV ad…is all about positive messaging. Save for one small video clip of Hillary Clinton and former President Bill Clinton, it doesn’t mention the Democratic nominee at all.”[5]

Donald Trump’s likability ratings among voters could also be one of the plausible reasons for this positive messaging. A Washington Post-ABC News poll that came out in June 2016 found that 70 percent of Americans view Trump negatively, including 56 percent of voters who feel “strongly” negative feelings about Trump.[6] Interestingly, Mr. Trump’s own campaign acknowledged the distinctiveness of this ad. In a press release, Jason Miller, Senior Communications Advisor to the Trump campaign, said, “While Hillary Clinton distracts and diverts attention away from her horrific record with negative advertisements that lack substance, our campaign plans on promoting the positive energy that has turned Mr. Trump’s campaign into a full-fledged movement.”[7]

Trump’s “Movement” is significant in view of the fact that many critics have described the 2016 presidential election as “the most negative campaign in U.S. history.”[8] News perceptions in the 2016 election contrast with studies on human psychology that indicate “people feel closer and more connected to others when they experience positive emotions.”[9] Political campaigns have continued, nevertheless, to become more and more negative as years pass by.[10] Still, some recent studies have found that the favorability ratings of the sponsoring candidate will be greater among those who view the positive political ad than those who view negative ads.[11] The results of such studies clearly indicate that the best way for a political candidate to increase his or her favorability ratings is through positive messaging.

Given the poor likability ratings that Trump has garnered over the last few months, the positive tone in this ad seems like a strategic move by his campaign to recast his image. In this analysis, we argue the ad epitomizes Donald Trump as a “successful leader” and simultaneously employs a fantasy genre throughout the advertisement. Fantasy genres can assure voters a magical transformation in their lives, which acts as a paradigm of “American wish fulfillment.”[12]

This ad constructs Mr. Trump as an agent of change for his grassroots voters. Trump can achieve this change through his movement that he alleges over the last few months. Further, it reassures a diverse group of people of Donald Trump’s capability to run this country. As Murray Edelman observes, “for political party bureaucrats and aspirants for lower-level offices, the top name on the ticket disseminates an appealing aura that can be projected flexibly onto fellow candidates and onto policies of influential groups.”[13] The motive of this ad seems to be just that–build a portrait of Donald Trump as an effective leader who can work “together” with a diverse group of people and restore America’s place in the world through wish fulfillment.

The ad visually constructs Donald Trump as a highly successful builder and businessman who seeks to replicate that success as the President of United States. The images are selected in order to highlight the strengths and virtues of Trump. For most of the ad, the camera focuses its attention on Trump and people from different walks of life. These image-building tactics confirm the findings of the study conducted by Johnston and Lee Kaid on presidential campaign ads. “Image ads,” such as “Movement,” demonstrate a special focus on the candidate’s credibility.[14] The advertisement acts a testimonial about the good work the candidate has done and builds a case for how trustworthy he is.

In this advertisement, the GOP nominee shakes hands with supporters and interacts with people. The ad shows camera shots of Trump’s gleaming hotel in Chicago, Trump taking the stage at the Republican National Convention before an energized audience, and Trump inaugurating his new hotel in Washington, D.C. These shots depict him as a successful entrepreneur and a popular leader. The fast-paced ad cycles through different scenes with a montage of visual shots: a shot of American flags, a soldier returning home, a docked American battleship, a diversity of people from different ethnic backgrounds with smiles on their faces, a couple with kids walking toward their car, a young girl chalking sidewalks with the letters “U.S.A.,” and another girl hosting a lemonade stand in the suburbs. These shots all lined up to provide optimism and inspiration to the conglomeration of diverse and enthusiastic voters from the grassroots. In doing so, the Trump campaign relied on a pictorial approach for his ad, a standard advertisement theme used by U.S. presidential candidates. As Roderick Hart points out, “advertisements use pictures because pictures are overdetermined with meaning…the American flag, two children selling lemonade, the lead-off hitter sliding into second base, unemployed workers waiting for their welfare checks.”[15]

The advertisement is embellished with visuals that convey patriotism, inspiration, and praise for Donald Trump. While it is largely a pro-Trump ad, it sneaks in criticism of the Clintons by including a clip of Hillary Clinton and her husband and former President Bill Clinton from a 1992 60 Minutes interview when Mr. Clinton was questioned about his alleged affair with Gennifer Flowers. The narrator of the ad talks about “leaving the past behind,” and dismisses the leadership of Hillary Clinton.

In this softer image-boosting ad, the viewer first sees pan shots of cheering crowds and Trump supporters looking eagerly towards the stage as they hold placards and “Make America Great Again” posters. The ad follows by showing scenes of Donald Trump ascending the stage at the Republican National Convention. These early shots introduce Trump as the mass leader who created the “movement.” Three scenes in the ad appear and follow the opening shots on screen in quick succession. In these scenes Trump poses for pictures with police officers in front of his plane, stands at a podium, and inaugurates his new hotel in Washington, D.C. All these three video shots were medium and wide-shots taken from three different angles. In an attempt to convey energy and action associated with Trump and his leadership, the technique of fast-cut editing was used here to show these three scenes in a very brief time. The viewer gets a glimpse of Trump tower in Chicago from a very low-angle. Generally, low angle shots are used to make the subject look powerful and strong. In this case, it presents the viewers with the scale and magnitude of Trump’s business empire. This shot dissolves gradually and makes a transition into the next scene where Trump is seen interacting with a woman supporter. As the narrator proclaims: “Donald Trump’s priority: you.” After the quote, four young people appear on the screen one after the other in a quick sequence. It is notable that all these four people were from diverse ethnic backgrounds carrying a subtle message to the viewers that Trump is a leader willing to work with people from all backgrounds in his grassroots movement.

These close-shots are followed by aerial shots of an American flag hanging from the top of a huge construction crane metaphorically implying a connection between Trump’s successes in the construction business and his ability to run this country as its president. The ad builds continuity and shows a wide-shot of a family of four walking toward a car with an American flag in the background. The commercial follows with a medium shot of a man working in an industry and a wide-angle shot of a returning soldier embracing her family as the narrator talks about family, jobs, and country. Here, the ad seems to reach out to the working-class Americans and core constituents of the Republican Party. The ad continues to show visuals and couples this with words such as “family,” “country” and “jobs” that resonate with American voters. By using these visuals and words, the ad also implies Trump’s belief in family as an institution and his pledge to uphold traditional values.

The second half of the ad opens with a top-angle shot of a young girl chalking the letters “U.S.A.” on the sidewalk followed by a crane shot of a resting American battleship.  While the visuals and words appear to celebrate people from different professions and acknowledge social institutions such as a family, the underlying message here is that Donald Trump will address the challenges and needs of these eclectic groups.

These images are followed by a time-lapsed video of a bustling urban center with skyscrapers and fast moving traffic as if to promise “progress” and “upward mobility.” The ad returns to a dynamic shot of a young girl sitting at a lemonade stand followed by a wide shot of Trump shaking hands with police officers on an airport runway. In both these visuals, the advertisements attempts to speak to those concerned about the safety and security of the future generations. The ad insinuates that Trump is the only leader who can safeguard and protect the future generations.

These are followed by medium shots of Trump addressing a gathering of cheering crowds, a visual shot of a fan embracing him on the stage, and visuals of veterans marching with an American flag all in quick succession, creating an uplifting mood. The ad ends with a low angle shot of Donald Trump where he is seen walking on the stage with his thumbs up to his audience. This final shot projects him as a strong and powerful leader who is capable of leading the United States as its president. The ad ends with a medium shot image of Donald Trump with a standard endorsement statement. Overall, a variety of camera shots including an aerial shot, a low-angle, a straight-on medium and wide shots, were used to highlight Trump’s personality and his positive characteristics. In addition, the ad employs cinema verite style where the viewer gets a window into Mr. Trump’s world. The visual shots and video editing are constructed to give viewers a feeling that they are following Donald Trump as he meets with groups of people. In other words, “movement” comes across as a mini-documentary on the Republican nominee’s background and his campaign with the sole purpose of highlighting his competence to become the President of United States. The ad as min-documentary projects Donald Trump as the preferred leader of the grassroots voter, and provides a sense of wish fulfillment for his movement.

Like many ads, music is an extremely important element in “Movement.” It affects viewers’ beliefs about whether the characters in the ad should be interpreted as reliable, trustworthy, strong, believable, and credible. In a systematic analysis of 700 political advertisements aired during the 2012 presidential campaign, the researchers found that only 2.6 percent of the total number of ads did not contain any kind of music and about 40.5 percent of the ads used uplifting music to capture the imagination of the viewers.[16] Uplifting music in political ads is a standard feature in U.S. presidential campaigns, which Trump uses as a constant theme through his ad.

The narration in the ad was delivered by an anonymous male voice. This practice is certainly in tandem with other presidential campaign ads. Past research has shown that over the years, anonymous announcers have replaced the candidate as the primary speaker in the ads. The captions complement the uplifting and positive tone in this ad. As the narrator proclaims, “It’s a movement, not a campaign. ”The words “Movement” appear on the screen with a large cheering crowd. This caption is designed to distinguish Mr. Trump’s campaign from other presidential campaigns and positions his candidacy as a massive social movement poised to transform America.

Captions also support the possibility of fulfilling Trump as a leader of the average voter. The next caption, “Dreaming Big,” is paired with visuals of Trump talking to a group of people wearing construction gear. By projecting Mr. Trump as a leader who doesn’t shy away from taking risks and thinking big, the caption aims to highlight his professional credentials while assuring voters that he can use his managerial skills to run the government far more efficiently than a career politician. The ad also projects the word “success” on the viewers’ screens. Here, the caption is used to construct Mr. Trump’s image as a highly successful entrepreneur and a job provider.  In other words, the text on the screen conveys Trump’s business acumen as a viable characteristic that propels him to success as commander-in-chief. Trump’s ad proposes a more collective approach to revive America and “Make it Great Again,” through visuals and captions such as “together.” At the end of the commercial, a low angle shot of Trump is featured with the caption “Great,” which lionizes Mr. Trump and positions him as the leader who can restore the nation. The advertisement displays Trump’s character, leadership acumen, and ability to resonate with the voters in order to prove he is the preferred leader for the United States. In the ad, Donald Trump showcases a much more positive tone to his campaign, in order to fulfill the wishes, energy and hopes of his grassroots movement.

Notes

[1] Appelbaum, Yoni. “‘I Alone Can Fix It.’” The Atlantic, July 21, 2016. http://www.theatlantic.com/politics/archive/2016/07/trump-rnc-speech-alone-fix-it/492557/.
[2] “Clinton Says Trump Said at RNC.” @politifact. http://www.politifact.com/florida/statements/2016/jul/28/hillary-clinton/hillary-clinton-says-donald-trump-said-i-alone-can/.
[3] Flores, Reena. CBS News October, 2016, and 11:32 Am. “Donald Trump Threatens to Sue over Hillary Clinton Attack Ad on Veterans.” http://www.cbsnews.com/news/donald-trump-threatens-to-sue-over-hillary-clinton-attack-ad-on-veterans/.
[4] Corasaniti, Nick. “Donald Trump’s ‘Movement’ Ad: Positive Message, Subtle Dig,” The New York Times, September 24, 2016, http://www.nytimes.com/2016/09/25/us/politics/donald-trumps-movement-ad-positive-message-subtle-dig.html.
[5] “Trump Goes Positive in New Ad.” USA Today. http://www.usatoday.com/story/news/politics/onpolitics/2016/09/20/trump-goes-positive-new-ad/90751380/.
[6] “Negative Views of Donald Trump Just Hit a New Campaign High: 7 in 10 Americans.” Washington Post. https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/the-fix/wp/2016/06/15/negative-views-of-donald-trump-just-hit-a-new-high-7-in-10-americans/.
[7] “New Tv ad: “Movement.” Trump Pence 2016. September 20, 2016. https://www.donaldjtrump.com/press-releases/new-tv-ad-movement.
[8] “Why 2016 Will Be the Most Negative Campaign in History.” http://fortune.com/2016/05/23/why-2016-will-be-the-most-negative-campaign-in-history/.
[9] Cabrera, Elizabeth F. “The six essentials of workplace positivity.” People and Strategy 35, no. 1 (2012): 50.
[10] Hart, Roderick P. Campaign talk: Why elections are good for us. Princeton University Press, 2009
[11] Donahue, Sean. “The Effects of Negative Political Advertising on Young College-Educated Voters.” (2011).
[12] Nelson, John S., and George Robert Boynton. Video rhetorics: Televised advertising in American politics. Vol. 1. University of Illinois Press, 1997..
[13] Edelman, Murray. Constructing the political spectacle. (1988).
[14] Johnston, Anne, and Lynda Lee Kaid. “Image ads and issue ads in US presidential advertising: Using videostyle to explore stylistic differences in televised political ads from 1952 to 2000.” Journal of Communication 52, no. 2 (2002): 281-300.
[15] Hart, Roderick P. Campaign talk: Why elections are good for us. Princeton University Press, 2009.
[16] Gorzelany-Mostak, Dana. “The Use of Background Music in Political Advertising.” Trax on the Trail. http://traxonthetrail.com/article/use-background-music-political-advertising.