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TRUMP – A LOUSY BUSINESSMAN BUT THE BEST BRAND MARKETER IN THE US?

Oct 1, 2020

By Joanna Seddon
AMA New York Past President and Member of the Board of Directors

I urge any marketer who needs to make a case for the power and value of brands to read a recent New York Times article, ‘How reality TV fame handed Donald Trump a $427M lifeline.’ It provides a compelling argument for what can be achieved by building and monetizing your brand.

It turns out that the only profits Trump has ever made come from brand. Ignoring the reality of his failed businesses, he created a brand ambition (fame and money but most of all fame), brand positioning (a caricature of ‘American Success’) and a brand expression (flamboyant gold and glitz).

Relentless marketing of this image generated a huge risk-free flow of cash. He was somewhat indiscriminate in his choice of who he associated his brand with. One source of was lending his name for big fees to advertisers – Domino’s Pizza ($500,000), Double Stuf Oreos ($500,000), Unilever’s All (over $1 million) for which he raised a laundry basket up the side of Trump Tower, and, in a digital version, appeared doing laundry and squawking one-liners such as “The Donald can do the work of 40 dry cleaners.”

Add to this the product placement fees for The Apprentice, which at one point were running at over 100 different brands a month, including big names like Pepsi. Even more lucrative were formal brand licensing deals, with Serta’s mattresses (which netted him more than $15 million), Learning Annex events and publications ($8.7 million), not to mention Trump hotels (only 11 out of hundreds of which he owns, the rest are brand licensing deals).
Another $25 million poured in from clothing brands such as Van Heusen which churned out Trump ties, shirts and underwear.

None of this was enough to compensate for the horrors of his failed real estate deals, leaving him to face debts of over $400 million and potential foreclosures. But, no matter. The brand brought Trump the thing he covets the most—not fortune, but fame, in the shape of the Presidency, where he appears on the media the world over, day after day, and his behaviors mesmerize millions.

Whatever Trumps legacy will be, one of its enduring effect should be a lesson to us all on the what can be achieved by taking brand seriously, as one of every company’s most valuable assets, and investing in it to drive value.

​Joanna Seddon is President of Global Brand Consulting at Ogilvy, where she helps companies maximize the financial returns from their brand strategies and marketing investments.

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