How Might Donald Trump's Campaign Affect His Brand?

Apr 5, 2016
Originally published on April 7, 2016 5:39 pm
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AUDIE CORNISH, BYLINE: Donald Trump got his start in real estate, but he's made money more recently by simply capitalizing on his brand. He's lent out his name to all kinds of products from board games to bottled water. NPR's Jim Zarroli wondered how Trump's presidential bid had helped or hurt the Trump brand.

JIM ZARROLI, BYLINE: Donald Trump first made a splash in 1976 when he purchased the venerable Commodore Hotel in midtown Manhattan and covered it with mirrored glass and stainless steel. He followed it up with Trump Tower, which seemed for a while like the pink marbled essence of '80s glamour. Old money didn't move into Trump's buildings, but plenty of other rich people did. Michael Cohen is tri-state president of Colliers International.

MICHAEL COHEN: Donald's name, for many years, promised a certain level of upscale luxury, a certain look. Some might call it shiny or glitzy, but to others, it was exactly what they wanted.

ZARROLI: Trump spent years riding out the cycles in real estate, gaining and losing large fortunes. But as his fame grew, he discovered a safer way to make money. Trump biographer Michael D'Antonio says he attached his name to consumer goods.

MICHAEL D'ANTONIO: Everything from meat to mortgages to vodka to bottled water. You know, I don't know that there's anything that someone might not persuade him to brand.

ZARROLI: No matter the product, Trump was center stage, appearing in commercials like this one.


DONALD TRUMP: Trump Steaks are by far the best tasting, most flavorful beef you've ever had, truly in a league of their own. Trump Steaks are five-star gourmet.

ZARROLI: Because Trump's company is privately held, it's not clear how much he had to do with the products besides serving as pitchman. Michael Cohen says there was always a certain ambiguity about Trump's role in these ventures.

COHEN: It's hard to tell when you're walking by a project or you're a consumer looking to buy whether the development is something to which he has lent or sold or rented his name or whether it's one where he actually has his own money at risk and has his own development company in charge of doing the work.

ZARROLI: As political adversaries have pointed out, some of these ventures fizzled or ended in lawsuits. But D'Antonio says that doesn't mean Trump himself was hurt.

D'ANTONIO: There are a lot of these branded products that aren't available anymore, but that doesn't mean he lost money on them. It may mean a lot of other people lost money on them, but it doesn't mean Donald did.

ZARROLI: The campaign has made Trump even more famous, and Suzie Mills, general manager of the Trump International Hotel and Tower in New York says many customers ask about him.

SUZIE MILLS: A lot of them sometimes think that Mr. Trump's office is based here. And they're like, oh, you know, are we going to see Mr. Trump? But obviously we don't get into the politics of it. From a hotel standpoint, we do try to keep that very separate.

ZARROLI: Mills says the campaign hasn't hurt the hotel. It's just had its best year ever. But Will Johnson of BAV Consulting says his own survey suggests Trump's brand is suffering. He says people used to associate Trump with being upper-class and glamorous. Now high-income people in particular are more likely to hold him in low esteem, to find him polarizing and dislikable.

WILL JOHNSON: Among this higher income group, the group that, at least for his hotels and golf courses and things like that, would be the target customer, we do think that this data is showing that there could be significant problems.

ZARROLI: Johnson says there's been an uptick in the number of consumers who see Trump as traditional, a word associated with conservative values. Whether all of this will affect Trump's brand in the long run is unclear. Consumer perceptions can be remarkably changeable over time. But when this bitterly divisive political season finally ends, a lot of the entrepreneurs who once might've wanted to use Trump's name will no doubt have second thoughts about what it means to do so. Jim Zarroli, NPR News, New York. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.