We all know how well Donald Trump is doing as a president.
Well, not all of us know. Thirty-seven percent of the country seems locked in a kind of trance, a willed blindness almost as unsettling to consider as the grim carnival they ignore.
Still, many of us are painfully aware of how Trump is performing as president.
But how is the Trump brand?
Those hotels and condos and neckties. Will they, boosted by the prestige of the presidency, become a permanent part of the consumer landscape, even after the 45th president, please God, moves on? Is “Trump” the next Coke or Chevy?
Or will the name vanish as quickly as Jimmy Carter peanut keepsakes?
I will admit bias. I thought “Trump” represented the most vapid kind of tin-plated junk before he ran for president. I’d compare the Trump brand to the Playboy rabbit logo. On the rare occasions you see it, on someone’s car bumper, you do not think, “Oh, look, Playboy. The driver must do very well with highly attractive women and own a $25,000 stereo system.” Rather, the rabbit represents a kind of naive yearning, a juvenile greed that is almost sweet.
But my view can be set aside. We are a marketing capital, here in Chicago. Surely experts are observing this process.
“A brand is a container of meaning,” said Tim Lapetino, design director at Seedhouse, a design firm. “There are two things in any brand, and Trump’s no different, There are the things the brand wants to say about itself — the horrible letters on this beautiful building. And there’s what people say about the brand, the divisive and frustrating politics.”
The building Lapetino refers to is Chicago’s Trump International Hotel and Tower, and real estate pros have already noticed the growing toxicity of the Trump name as owners rush to dump their condos and renters negotiate steep rent reductions.
“My landlord knows that the value of the Trump brand has eroded,” renter Ajay Goel told the Tribune in April.
Not entirely. Diplomats seeking to curry favor with the administration have been lining up to hold swank parties at the Trump International Hotel in Washington.
But are there enough Kuwaiti lobbyists to keep the brand afloat? After Trump was elected president, Macy’s dropped his clothing line. Neiman Marcus booted Ivanka’s merchandise, citing poor sales.
Andrew Miller, creative director of Namewell, said that Trump has a brand at all is a sign, not of success, but of how badly he botched being a developer.
“The franchising business was born of his failure in real estate,” said Miller. “The story is, after Trump went bankrupt in the ’90s, he didn’t have the same access to capital. Instead of throwing up gigantic skyscrapers he found a way to leverage his own name. Instead of him laying out money, he gets paid first, and it also appealed to his sense of grandeur and obsession to be famous.”
The irony. Just as a diploma from Trump University is a mark, not of talent, but gullibility, so those brandishing the Trump name are, unconsciously, ballyhooing business failure.
But we can’t forget that third of America who are proud Trump supporters still.
“Trump projects confidence, a kind of American swagger,” said Miller.
When the last letter is pulled down on the last Trump building in America due to condo owners tired of paying a revulsion tax, the Trump name will live in the hinterlands of the country and distant corners of the world, supported by those who believe that he represents America.
Assuming, of course, that anyone still wants to be associated with America.
“America itself is a brand,” Miller said, “and America as a brand is fading. . . . There’s no shared nationwide sense of what we stand for, no consensus of what it means to be an American. That’s how Trump got elected. We have to figure out what Americanism means, and build on that.”
That we do. Those who believe America means Donald Trump, we’ll, you’re seeing — or, rather, not seeing — how well that works. For those who think America means something different, something better than Donald Trump, well, we’re being handed a golden opportunity to put those beliefs into practice.