Is Donald Trump going to lose the U.S. election? With two catastrophically poor debate performances and daily disclosures about his nauseating assaults on women, the Republican’s campaign is the textbook example of a train wreck. Trump’s character flaws have rendered him unelectable for all but his most loyal supporters. His own party, by selling out to a populist with no knowledge of policy and no intent to obtain any, is accelerating towards the abyss. Total meltdown, as TIME magazine put it.
So what do brands do about this? Are those still associated with Trump realizing the risk? Is there any notable change of heart among corporate leaders who still speak up for him, use the Trump logo under license or sponsor his events?
“We’re not into politics” is one line often heard when the topic comes up, referring to the somewhat uneasy differentiation between the Trump Organization and Donald Trump, the individual. But can brands disassociate themselves from one aspect of a brand while trying to leverage another? I looked at brands who have taken a clear stance and those who haven’t.
When Trump declared his candidacy in June 2015, he immediately set the tone for what was to come, defaming Mexican immigrants as criminals, rapists and drug dealers. Univision, the largest Spanish-language TV broadcaster in the U.S. reacted by not airing the 2015 Miss USA Pageant and severing ties with Miss Universe Organization co-owner Donald Trump. True to style, Trump initiated a lawsuit against the network. Then another broadcaster, NBC, canceled plans to air the Miss USA and Miss Universe Pageants and also withdrew from Trump’s reality show, “The Celebrity Apprentice.”
Had both networks stood by Trump, the backlash from Latinos and the wider U.S. public would have been devastating. Instead they were the very first commercial enterprises formerly linked to Trump that refused to remain quiet about his demagoguery. They did what is good for country and business.
In the Middle East, it was Trump’s proposed ban of all Muslims entering the United States that made brands think twice about their relationship with Donald Trump. Among them is Dubai-based retailer Landmark Group, which instantly suspended sale of all Trump-branded home décor products across its 195 Lifestyle stores. Landmark Group is no small player. It employs 40,000 people in 19 countries in the Middle East and North Africa.
Landmark was not alone. “Trump has damaged his brand in all Muslim countries. He insulted 1.8 billion Muslims worldwide, and he has business in the Arab world,” the chairman of prominent Dubai real estate group Al Habtoor, Khalaf Al-Habtoor, told The New York Times.
As summer 2016 approached, more global U.S. brands made their convictions clear. Macy’s, MetLife, Walgreens, Hewlett Packard, JPMorgan Chase, UPS, Motorola, Wells Fargo, Ford, Coca-Cola, Microsoft and Apple scaled back or withheld funding for the 2016 Republican National Convention that was about to nominate Trump. The exact level of their corporate support or lack thereof will not be clear until government filings become available. However, all of them, under public pressure or due to their own realization of the potential damage, broke with tradition and refused to go with the flow. Let’s call them the basket of respectables.
Other global players are coming under increasing pressure to act. Gucci, Nike and Starbucks were publicly called on to reconsider their business dealings with Donald Trump and begin exploring relocating their flagship stores from his buildings.
It should not be so difficult to do what’s right in principle and in view of Trump’s poor performance. Trump’s personal brand is rapidly losing its association with the traits he has long promoted as the essence of his business. According to a survey by Brand Keys in October 2016, the consumer perception of the Trump brand has significantly plunged since the tape of the Republican nominee speaking offensively about women on the Access Hollywood bus surfaced. Billionaire Mark Cuban even predicted Donald Trump’s personal bankruptcy in a few years.
Still, not everybody seems convinced that Trump’s brand is toxic enough to cause permanent stains on their own brands. Home Depot co-founder Bernie Marcus dismissed the Trump tape, calling on his Republican friends to “grow up”, and KitchenAid is still refusing to move the 2017 Senior PGA Championship from the Trump National Golf Club.
Here is the point. Given the tailspin brand Trump is in, any brand or person associated with Trump or his businesses is in the middle of one giant avalanche track. More and more media are zooming in on corporations that are backing America’s most divisive presidential candidate, and having no opinion or trying to ignore the ugly facts that emerge about Donald Trump will backfire. Consumers will hold those brands accountable, voting not only with their ballot but also their feet. The latest revelations provide enough reason to finally make that long overdue course correction. It is now or never to sever ties with Trump decisively and publicly. It’s time to tell Mr Trump: “You’re fired”.