Flourish or flounder? The future of the Donald Trump brand
Donald Trump‘s incendiary comments on topics like immigration and women have negatively painted him as the enfant terrible of the Republican party, which is a feat considering the litany of questionable catchphrases to come from GOP members over recent years (see Todd Akin’s “legitimate rape” argument, Mitt Romney’s “binders full of women” and Jeb Bush’s definition of America).
Considering the vastness of Trump’s personal brand empire, which is estimated at $3 billion, and includes licensing deals and real estate developments, the bombastic businessman-cum-politician arguably has more to lose than the standard politico, because this election and its outcome could decide the future of the Trump brand.
“He’s always been a polarizing figure and now he’s accelerating that,” says David Wills, a former political aide and current senior vice president of Media Profile, a public relations firm in Toronto. “He’s solidified his base of supporters now and it isn’t in-line with his personal brand, which is luxury and high-end. He’s going to have to look at a reinvention.”
In a seemingly preemptive strike, Trump Hotels announced the introduction of “Scion” in late September. It’s a new branded hotel chain aimed a younger consumers that will start rolling out in 2017, and most notably, it won’t see the billionaire’s name in gold letters above the lobby entrance.
Whether this is the Trump Organization’s acknowledgment of its namesake’s waning popularity or a genuine shift toward a new market is anyone’s guess, but the fact is, naming your hotel chain for the descendant of a rich family doesn’t do much to disassociate the Trump name with entitlement. And that could be an alienating move in the eyes of a fan base that, as Wills points out, can’t afford to stay at a Trump Hotel. (According to the New York Times, Scion rates will start at $200 or $300 a night.)
Lately, things haven’t been looking good for the eponymous properties. Despite Ivanka Trump’s prepared statement that claims “our business at Trump Hotels is stronger than ever,” recent research published by search-and-discovery app Foursquare showed that foot traffic to Trump properties fell 16 per cent in Democratic states in September compared to a year ago, and there was also a decline in visits in swing states like Florida and Nevada. Perhaps not surprisingly, Trump properties saw a significant decline in female visitors. Similarly, a New York Magazine analysis shows that room rates at the newly-opened and lavish Trump Hotel in Washington, D.C., fell to $500 USD a night from an average of $750.
WATCH: Protesters gather at Trump Hotel in Toronto to protest GOP nominee’s comments on women
“If you look at Hotels.com data, during the World Bank-IMF meetings in D.C. earlier this month, room rates at the Trump Hotel were as little as $400, while the Ritz was charging over $1,000 a night,” says Shareen Pathak, managing editor of Digiday. “This is unimaginable. I can only assume that world leaders and anyone who is visible wouldn’t want to be seen staying at a Trump hotel.”
Trump-shunning has also extended to other branded properties since he entered the presidential race. In July 2015, amid derogatory comments made about Mexican immigrants, Macy’s department store, the exclusive retailer of Donald J. Trump Signature Collection shirts and ties, announced it would phase them out. A week later, Trump’s menswear licensee, PVH Corp., dropped the brand. That same month, Perfumania, makers of the Trump Success and Empire by Trump fragrances, cut ties with the candidate.
“Unfortunately, the Trump name has become synonymous with racism, sexism, xenophobia and dangerous dog-whistle politics,” says Lis Pimentel, president of UNITE HERE Local 75 union, which represents some of Toronto’s Trump hotel employees.
“The brand is the man, and the man is the brand.”
Assuming that the man doesn’t win the election, what will come of his brand?
“You have to pay a premium to use his brand and people won’t want to do that,” Wills says. “We’ve already seen issues with the Trump hotel in Toronto wanting to remove his name from the building; a lot of his business relationships are like that now. He’ll have to find other ways to capitalize on his new core.”
Indeed, Talon International, the property developer of Toronto’s Trump International Hotel & Tower paid a licensing fee to use Trump’s name, but has been embroiled in a years-long battle to separate from the Trump Organization. As of Oct. 27, the Financial Post reports that the building is currently in the possession of JCF Capital ULC, which is looking to sell the property.
The public outcry in Toronto and Vancouver at Trump’s inflammatory comments, especially in the wake of the hot-mic Access Hollywood tape, has neared deafening levels. In December 2015, Vancouver mayor Gregor Robertson sent a letter to Holborn Group, the Malaysian-owned property development firm that is bringing a Trump Tower to the city, requesting the named be removed. Protests in front of the building have also proliferated, most recently on Oct. 24 in response to the Access Hollywood recording.
There has been similar furor in Toronto.
“Most Torontonians aren’t voting citizens in the U.S., but many still ask what they can do to take a stand against the hatred and bigotry that Donald Trump represents and espouses,” says Josh Matlow, Toronto city councillor of Ward 22. “[His beliefs] can have a cumulative effect, and it’s important for every pluralistic democratic society that celebrates diversity to take a stand and tell anyone who wants to do business in our city that we won’t stand for that kind of message.”
Even if his name disappears from buildings, however, one thing remains all but certain: this will not be the last the world sees of Trump.
“A lot of people are talking about how he’s created a fervid movement of supporters, and this is how you establish a media property,” Pathak says. “It’s one thing if that’s where the brand goes, but are advertisers going to come on board? A homegrown brand needs a mass audience, and right now his audience is niche and small.”
“I suspect like all defeated candidates, he’ll withdraw from the public eye for a bit,” Wills says. “It will be the end of him as a politician, but he’ll relaunch his brand with something new that builds on his support.”
© 2016 Global News, a division of Corus Entertainment Inc.