Election Aside, Trump Personal Brand On Life Support Entering First Debate
Aaron Perlut | Partner

Each morning I receive the New York Times‘ daily email push in my inbox and over the past few months the stories have been littered (not surprisingly) with headlines castigating Donald Trump for various offenses. And who’s to blame the Times? Trump has earned it in spades and more often than not they’ve simply reported the things he has said.

This past week, the most ballyhooed Times headline relative to Trump was the editorial board’s formal endorsement of Hillary Clinton for President of the United States. Who could’ve seen that coming, huh? Seriously, why this was news — and countless media outlets reported on it — is anyone’s guess as the Times has spent hundreds of thousands of words absolutely blasting Trump for everything and anything.

I couldn’t help but pay closer attention to a lesser-noticed story in the opinion pages called, “Donald Trump’s Shiny New Hotel.” It’s a somewhat petty albeit important examination of the damage his behavior during the presidential run has had on the Trump brand.

The editorial’s introductory paragraph kind of paints the picture for what’s to come, “When Donald Trump labeled Mexican immigrants ‘rapists’ in announcing his candidacy in June of last year, he lost contracts with Nascar, Macy’s, NBC Universal, Univision, even Serta mattresses. Not surprisingly, his three eldest children — Ivanka, Donald Jr. and Eric — began worrying about whether the marketability of the Trump brand could survive the campaign undamaged.”

It reminded me of a post I wrote in April on the Elasticity blog, “The Spam Train: Donald Trump’s Needle and the Damage Done.”

In it I wrote that Trump, “builds things that people pay to use and he has of course been paid by others to represent them or their brands. When all of that goes away in a heap of reputational ruin and no one wants to use his golf courses, stay in his hotels, eat Trump steaks with a bottle of Trump water, buy his condos, and there’s no more TV shows or clothing lines — forgive the phrase, but he won’t have a proverbial pot to piss in.”

The Times’ piece suggests it’s already happening.

Referring to Trump’s freshly minted hotel in Washington, D.C., the writer quotes a local convention planner as saying, “I don’t know who’s going to book it, because it’s so contentious.” The editorial writer goes on to note that the, “place seemed eerily empty. You could book a room for next weekend for less than $400. A week ago, the minimum rate was twice that.”

Digiday recently examined the effects of the now-infamous Billy Bush tape on Trump’s brand as well, noting that “Adding the Trump name to something used to be a good thing, increasing value between 20 percent and 37 percent, according to a survey this month by Brand Keys. Post candidacy, that added value began going down across the board. But it really nosedived last week, after a tape of Trump talking about sexually assaulting women was made public.”

“Given that most of Trump’s properties are located in blue states,” Digiday wrote, “the losses have been intensified. In purple states like Nevada and Florida, Fourquare found that fewer people were visiting Trump properties than in more progressive cities like Las Vegas and Miami. Interestingly, Trump properties have seen a double-digital decrease from visits by women this year, which means women are driving much of the fall-off.”


This is where the rubber meets the road — when the actions of a chief executive or figure representing the brand goes awry and impacts bottom line revenues, much like when Subway pitchman Jared Fogle was exposed for his lurid sex crimes.

Certainly since hiring adults to reinvigorate his campaign in mid-August, there’s been a noted change in Trump’s tone, language and frequency of his misogynist and racist remarks along the campaign trail. But tonight, when the lights come on at Hofstra University for the first debate, and scripted teleprompters are nowhere to be found — all bets are off.

So when the dust clears in November — whether he’s occupying 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue for the next four years or not — Trump’s remarks of the past eight months about women, blacks, the LGBTQ community, intellectuals, Muslims and others will be remembered and could very well impact his brand equity, at least for a period of time.

Win, lose or draw, the Trump brand may indeed be on life support entering tonight’s debate. Unless, however, he goes all-in on those who have stuck with him and Trump suddenly starts discounting his products for the highly coveted demographic of white Americans with household family incomes of less than $40,000 annually.

Aaron Perlut

Aaron Perlut is a cofounding partner of Elasticity with some 25 years of diverse experience in journalism, public relations and digital marketing. He is a former senior reputation management counselor at Omnicom company FleishmanHillard, as well as a communications executive for two of the nation's largest energy companies. Throughout his career, Perlut has counseled a range of organizations – Fortune 500s, state governments, professional sports franchises, economic development authorities, well-funded startups and large non-profits – helping manage reputation and market brands across a diverse channels in an evolving media environment.

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