Does #NeverTrump Extend to the Brand, Not Just the Politician?

For months most publications avoided answering this question by simply saying it is too soon to tell. But as a branding agency, we believe otherwise, and now the journalists are starting to agree. The International Business Times cites plummeting numbers for Trump hotels and notes that businesses are removing Trump products from their shelves.

The Trump brand was built on the back of his personality. For years most people perceived Mr. Trump as a wealthy, brash, New York real estate magnate who successfully hosted a reality TV show. He was entertaining, and people didn’t think much beyond the superficial. 

But his presidential campaign has drastically changed people’s perceptions about Mr. Trump. And regardless of your political leanings, nobody can argue that his campaign hasn’t had an effect on how people view Mr. Trump and by extension, his properties and products. This change is a reflection of what can happen with a personality-based brand. Martha Stewart similarly felt the hit to her company when she ran into legal troubles in 2004 for insider trading. 

If you are a member of one of the groups of people that Mr. Trump has offended, you are going to think twice about giving your money to someone who has attacked or belittled you. That’s just human nature. And if you are a corporation that cites diversity and inclusion as a core value, it just won’t make sense to schedule your next company retreat or holiday party at a Trump property, no matter how good a deal is offered. A corporation must live its brand, not just have inclusion statements on its website.

Those are the obvious reasons the Trump brand will feel some pain, but it goes much deeper. A brand is about an emotional connection. A brand is about what people “think and feel” about a product or service. And generally, people like to feel good. They like to feel positive about what they buy.

If we were helping to protect the Trump brand, our immediate focus would be to change the dialogue. We would steer the client to boost advertising and social media that promote the positives of visiting a Trump property or buying Trump products. The challenge will be how to erase some 32,000 tweets from the brand standard bearer that may have excited a base of voters but have nothing to do with the Trump brand’s most likely customers—educated, high-income consumers and businesses looking for exceptional event experiences. 

Martha Stewart’s company ultimately rebounded, but her negative publicity was more about the personal gains she made and obstruction of justice. Mr. Trump’s negative publicity has a more personal impact on consumers, as entire groups of people have been offended. Only time will tell how fast the Trump brand will rebound and how quickly people will forget the campaign season of 2015/16.

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