Steinberg: Trump brand now glittering like a lead balloon

SHARE Steinberg: Trump brand now glittering like a lead balloon

A Chicago branding agency told staffers not to stay at Trump hotels while traveling on business. | Sun-Times file photo

Follow @neilsteinbergThere are many ways to vote against Donald Trump.

Vote early now or at the ballot box Nov. 8.

Either way works. But that still isn’t enough for some to register their disdain for the talking yam who would shrug off our cherished democracy.

Walking through a Barnes & Noble this week, Michele Kurlander turned books by Donald Trump around, so their covers faced the wall.

“Childish,” she said. “But it made me feel better.”

In May, when the Los Angeles Dodgers were at Chicago and staying at the Trump International Hotel and Towers, first baseman Adrian Gonzalez refused to join his teammates at the hotel.

“I didn’t stay there,” Gonzalez said. “I had my reasons.”

And Elonide Semmes, president of Right Hat, a boutique branding agency headquartered in Chicago, instructed her staff not to stay in Trump hotels as they crisscross the country helping companies forge corporate identities. The epiphany came on the Chicago River during an architectural boat tour.


Follow @neilsteinberg“We were having an annual summer outing, this beautiful summer afternoon, going past Trump Tower, and something snapped in me,” Semmes recalled. “I said, ‘That’s one place we will not be going to, as a firm. We’re not going to support those businesses.’ Our brand is about diversity and respect for everyone. The Trump brand is not about that at all. I wouldn’t be comfortable going there.”

Right Hat has only about a dozen employees and not all of them travel. But Semmes’ actions are being reproduced all across the country as decent Americans pull back in horror from the Trump brand, which once represented a sort of crass super luxury unredeemed by style, grace or intelligence and now has taken on the odious stench of bigotry, ignorance and sedition. His far-flung namesake empire, from menswear to TV shows to golf resorts, is showing signs of crumbling away, and some are already predicting its demise.

“Every single @realDonaldTrump hotel and golf course is toast. Done. Over,” tycoon and Hillary Clinton fan Mark Cuban tweeted Oct. 7. “Bernie Madoff now has a better brand.”

Within a month of announcing his candidacy in a blaze of xenophobia a year ago June, a dozen Trump business partners had given him the heave-ho, starting naturally enough with Univision, the global Hispanic network that carried his Miss Universe pageant, and spreading to Macy’s, which dropped his line of clothing. The PGA and ESPN moved golf tournaments away from Trump courses, and NASCAR cringed away too.

Soon residents at Trump Tower in Chicago were saying they live “on the river” or “at 401 N. Wabash,” the Trump name they paid such a premium for suddenly sticking in their throats.

Even Trump seems to be pulling away from his own name. The Trump Organization — founded, not many realize, by his grandmother in 1923 — announced that its new line of luxury hotels will be called “Scion.” Maybe “Spawn” was already taken.

I couldn’t sour on Trump during the recent election because I curdled on him decades ago, long viewing him with wincing disgust, his brand a gold-plated parody of wealth. If Ralph Lauren products are for upper-middle-class strivers who want to assume an air of the horsey-doggy set, then Trump merchandise is for flush businessmen who want to pretend they are crass Yugoslavian oligarchs. It’s a bad dream to have.

Semmes, 59, said she was neutral about Trump and his brand before the 2016 campaign. First he offended her sense of inclusion and the importance of immigration — her mother is an immigrant from Eastern Europe — then he began resonating with her experience as a woman in business. She knew too many guys like Donald Trump.

“For most of my career I have been in a very male-dominated world,” Semmes said. “I faced a lot of unequal pay, unequal job assignments, plenty of unwanted advances. A lot of creepy encounters over time with people that were above me. So Trump’s view impacted me very personally.”

So she’s a brand expert. What has happened to Trump’s brand?

“I think the brand for the luxury products has been really damaged by the rhetoric,” she said. “There’s a lot of people who now have a negative perception of it.”

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