Is Trump the Candidate Destroying Trump the Brand?

GOP Hopeful's U.S. Empire Seems Stable So Far Despite Polarizing Comments

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Trump Tower in Manhattan's Columbus Circle.
Trump Tower in Manhattan's Columbus Circle. Credit: Rev Stan via Flickr

Trump Tower, Trump Golf, Trump Hotels — the Republican presidential candidate's name and logo, once associated with luxury rather than polarizing political viewpoints, is on properties around the world. As businesses in Dubai purge their shelves of Donald Trump-branded products this week, the question is whether Mr. Trump's U.S. businesses will suffer as his comments become increasingly derisive.

The short answer so far: There seems to be very little damage to his business empire.

Since the Trump organization is privately held, numbers are hard to come by. But anecdotal evidence seems to point to no immediate sales losses, at least for now, in part because much of the Trump business is in real estate. Someone protesting the candidate's political views could decline to book a Trump hotel or move his or her golf game to a different course. But cancelling a long-term corporate lease or selling your condominium is a different story.

"It's too soon to tell" if there will be any financial impact to Mr. Trump, said one real estate industry expert who asked not to be identified. "This guy says things in public and he's all over the buildings. Does this impact rent, sale prices, or people leaving? At this point, no. That doesn't mean it's out of the question, but there's no impact right now," the expert said.

One of the issues on the residential side is that if a property owner in a Trump bulding wanted to distance himself from the candidate's ideology, the logical step would be to sell. But an owner's sentiment woud have to be very strong to force that drastic an action.

Big elephant
A communications professional who lives in one of Mr. Trump's Upper West Side Riverside Blvd. properties said the logo is "kind of this big elephant in the building because it's right on the door."

"As a New Yorker and Trump building resident, there are aspects of Donald Trump that I have admired. But his political rhetoric must stop now. As a friend to many Hispanics, Muslims, Christians and Jews, his hateful discriminatory speech is unwelcome and brings great tarnish to his gigantic vanity logos." Added the tenant: "My seven and nine-year-olds say they are moving back to London if he gets elected."

As for other Trump-branded businesses like his 15 golf courses around the world, or his hotel chain that the Trump website says encompasses properties in 15 global markets, it's hard to measure whether bookings are down.

But one thing is clear: The Trump brand is muddled because it was founded on one platform and now also represents another. Stagwell Group Founder Mark Penn, who has been a senior adviser to political leaders including U.K. Prime Minister Tony Blair, Israeli Prime Minister Menachem Begin, Senator Hillary Rodham Clinton and President Bill Clinton, said brands and people that linked themselves to Trump's logo before the elections thought they were signing up for luxury, not a political campaign, so some of his brands could be negatively impacted.

Dragged into contoversy
Peter Land, a partner at Finsbury who specializes in consumer marketing and corporate reputation, said he expects that it's business as usual for the Trump-owned and branded companies because their job is to bring in consumers. Also, he said Mr. Trump was a "polarizing figure" before the presidential race so on that score not much has changed.

Some outside companies, such as construction workers or potential retail tenants, may not do business with Trump properties based on political differences, but others may decide to regardless of their views because it's a job, added Mr. Land.

Mr. Penn thinks Mr. Trump's statements will likely have a negative impact on his brands since they are being dragged into the middle of global controversies. He said that individual properties that have licensed the Trump name will likely review their agreements and decide if they want to make any public statements to disassociate themselves from the political campaign.

NBC made its position well-known in July when it refused to air the Miss USA pageant, previously owned by Mr. Trump, following his offensive comments about Mexican immigrants during a campaign speech.

Over the summer, Macy's pulled all of Trump's brand merchandise from its stores after he referred to Mexican and other immigrants as "killers and rapists." The Trump-branded items, such as lamps and mirrors, are still available on sites such as Mr. Trump's own website and Amazon.com.

Bankruptcy, not branding
Mr. Land said that when it comes to the Trump casino and hotel brands, "I'm not sure how much negative impact Trump is having on the rest of his businesses with certain bands of consumers who are looking for deals or looking to have a good time and don't care about the name on the door." That said, "but then you have a different cohort of people, who may make a political statement by not gracing Trump's properties with their presence."

Alex Bumazhny, Fitch Ratings' director of gaming, lodging and leisure, said the Trump Taj Mahal in Atlantic City, N.J. has been struggling for a few years, but it's "more related to its bankruptcy than to branding issues."

The weaknesses of the casino, he added, are likely due to customers being turned off because of labor issues and union worker strikes. Also, billionaire Carl Icahn acquired the Trump Taj Mahal out of bankruptcy court this summer, leaving Mr. Trump little control over the property aside from a 10% ownership stake.

While the fate of Mr. Trump's businesses in the U.S. is still up in the air, Dubai and Scotland have already taken strong stances against the GOP presidential hopeful due to his latest anti-Muslim remarks. The Landmark Group in Dubai, one of Mr. Trump's business partners in the Middle East, pulled all of his products this week, according to The New York Times, and the Scottish government dropped him as a business ambassador for the country.

Representatives from The Trump Organization and Trump Casinos were not immediately available for comment.

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