Will Bid for the Presidency Destroy the Trump Brand?

James T. Berger headshot

James T. Berger
Senior Marketing Writer

Published July 3, 2016

Donald Trump’s march on the U.S. Presidency is the ultimate manifestation of the value of his iconic brand.  But, if he fails will the brand crash and burn as well?

According to Politico Magazine “If Donald Trump is nothing else, he’s an American brand. The Trump name adorns luxury condominiums, hotels and golf courses around the world; it has sold a TV show, millions of books, a line of cologne and even, briefly, an airline.”

And that brand, according to Politico, is taking a major hit in the wake of his presidential campaign.

“Trump has built his distinctive trademark over the course of decades in public life, turning his own wealth, glamorous lifestyle and personality into emblems of his multi-billion dollar company through endless self-promotion,” according to the magazine.  “Trump considers this reputation alone a hugely significant part of his business.”

In financial documents the candidate released earlier this year, Trump has set the worth of his company’s “deals, brand and branded developments” at more than $3 billion. It was Trump’s brand that gave him his major advantage as a candidate through his strong name recognition.

Politico writes: “But as Trump the candidate has ascended, hitting the top of the polls and staying there thanks to a series of controversial statements and a groundswell of Republican populist support, the opposite has happened to Trump the brand.”

Time Magazine attributes five reasons why the Trump brand is “so wildly powerful:”

  1. He’s an ‘outlaw’ as typified by his role on “The Apprentice.”
  2. He’s a creator of wealth – “building things out of nothing.”
  3. He’s a symbol of success – “his name and face have become kind of shorthand for wealth and success.”
  4. He speaks his mind – his incendiary faux pas would sink an ordinary campaign but not his. And he never backs down.
  5. He feels authentic – “like a NASCAR vehicle with no logos on it,” said marketer Mike Sheldon.

How valuable is the Trump Brand

The actual value of the Trump brand is somewhat controversial.  Forbes Magazine points out that there is no doubt that Trump is a billionaire and a smart maker of deals. He has turned his father’s real estate/construction company into a massive real estate empire.  But the road has been somewhat rocky.  He has gone through a corporate bankruptcy and his worth had fallen into red ink in the 1990s, but according to Forbes, “Trump clawed his way back to enormous wealth.”

Some of the bumps in the road have been his four corporate bankruptcies related to his now defunct Atlantic City gambling endeavors.  Despite the bankruptcies, Trump maintains in his speeches, “Atlantic City has been very good to me.”  A Washington Post article showed that Trump earned $18 million while his Atlantic City hotel-casinos were crashing and burning.

Forbes maintains that the difference in Trump’s net worth between what Trump alleges and what Forbes estimates is $3 billion.  “Trump claims his brand and brand-related deals are worth some $3.3 billion,” according to Forbes.  “We value his brand at just $125 million; we give him another $128 million in management fees for Trump branded hotels.”

How Run for President Might Affect the Trump Brand

Harvard Business School Prof. of Marketing John Quelch, in the June 16 issue of HBS Working Knowledge and in the June 7 issue of Forbes (same article), writes:

In the marketplace, Brand Trump is authentic. It stands for aspiration and success, but more the ostentatious and flashy success that appeals to the newly wealthy, the entrepreneur, and the outsider. For these consumers, brand Trump clearly delivers; Trump hotels and resorts average a 4.5 rating on TripAdvisor.

Brand Trump has been extended to other categories, from steaks, to education, to apparel. Not all of these ventures have succeeded. Few guests see the competencies of a good hotelier as relevant to designing distinctive quality suits. But, for a minority of consumers who embrace the Trump lifestyle, these other products can add brand value and, being produced by others under license, they deliver some extra profit to the Trump organization.

Quelch points out that a successful brand “is owned by its consumers. It delivers benefits that speak to their needs and aspirations. If brand Trump can project convincing superiority on those issues like jobs and national security that voters view as the most important, the outrageous comments may be overlooked if not forgiven.”

Quelch differentiates between the Clinton and Trump brand appeal. “Imagine you are looking at a box of Kellogg’s Sugar Frosted Flakes. Clinton would prefer you read the nutrition label and make an informed decision. Trump wants you to fall in love with Tony the Tiger and forget the product details.”

Quelch concludes:  “Brand Trump seems more petulant than personable. Absent political experience, party unity and policy specifics, personality is all that brand Trump offers, and it’s already wearing thin. Indeed, it’s looking ugly. Perhaps Jeb Bush will be vindicated in his prediction: ‘You can’t insult your way to the presidency.’ likewise, the world of commerce has never seen a brand insult its way to market share leadership.”

Mud-Slinging May Have Dented the Brand

Jim Zarroli talking on National Public Radio says that the mud-slinging campaign may have damaged the brand among the high-income sector that Trump targets:

“Among this higher-income group — the group that, at least for his hotels and golf courses and things like that would be the target group — we do think that this data is showing there could be significant problems,” said Will Johnson, president of BAV Consulting, a division of the Young & Rubicam Group, which regularly surveys public attitudes about brands. Among people with household incomes over $150,000 a year, the number who equate Trump with being “upper class” fell by 53 percent in the past two years ending in December.

“Similar declines took place in the perception of Trump as “prestigious” (39 percent), “glamorous” (30 percent) and “intelligent” (29 percent). Trump did gain in the percentage of people who saw him as being “traditional,” a word often associated with conservative values.”

Zarroli next references a survey conducted by Forbes by the polling/consulting firm, Penn Schoen Berland, found that 45 percent of U.S. residents who earn $200,000 a year said they will “make a point of not visiting a Trump hotel or golf course over the next four years.”

The Crux of Trump’s Dilemma

Trump’s political message is targeted at the blue collar worker frustrated by the decline of the great American middle class, yet Trump’s commercial business message is targeted to the wealthy who can afford his luxury properties.  Win or lose, the Trump brand will be a casualty.

About The Author

James T. Berger headshot
James T. Berger, Senior Marketing Writer of The Wiglaf Journal, through his Northbrook-based firm, James T. Berger/Market Strategies, offers a broad range of marketing communications, research and strategic planning consulting services. In addition, he provides expert services to intellectual property attorneys in the area of trademark infringement litigation. An adjunct professor of marketing at Roosevelt University, he previously has taught at Northwestern University, DePaul University, University of Illinois at Chicago and The Lake Forest Graduate School of Management. He holds degrees from the University of Michigan (BA), Northwestern University (MS) and the University of Chicago (MBA). Berger is an often-published free lance business writer who has developed more than 100 published articles in the last eight years. For more information, visit www.jamesberger.net or telephone him at (847) 328-9633.