The White House is perhaps the best imaginable venue for product placement. But despite the fact that it now commands a presidential seal, the Trump brand seems less attractive than ever.
Nordstrom, Neiman Marcus and even discount retailers such as Kmart are dropping daughter Ivanka’s fashion line. Companies such as Uber face backlash for merely giving the impression of being pro-Trump. Professional athletes, those traditional arbiters of cool, are turning their backs: So far, six of the New England Patriots have declined to meet the president, and beloved Golden State Warriors point guard Steph Curry mockingly described President Trump as an asset – “if you remove the ‘et.’”
The “brash business mogul” brand just hasn’t translated well from the campaign trail to leadership of the country. In fact, the move to D.C. seems to have deflated it completely.
Overexposure hasn’t helped. Even under the harsh lights of the campaign, Trump operated under, if not a veil of mystery, at least a level of remove. Watchers certainly saw enough of him to stick in their minds, but the barrage only became unrelenting late in the game.
Today, however, we’re seeing far more of Trump than we would like – and it’s rarely a flattering view. The constant, unnecessary tweets! The manifold White House leaks! The confoundingly public bathrobe discussions!
It’s one thing for a provocateur to make an effort to stay in the public eye: Think of Madonna’s ever-changing looks. But at a certain point – perhaps after the presidency has been achieved, or your 13th studio album – it ceases to impress. Remember when a negative Trump tweet had the power to make a company’s stock drop? His latest swing at Nordstrom did the opposite. Over time consumers have become numb to Trumpisms, or worse, they’ve begun to find them grating.
But there’s another problem more damaging than overexposure: The narrative beneath the Trump brand is crumbling.
A brand is a promise to a customer. On the campaign trail, and throughout his career, Trump built his brand on getting things done that no one else could. Using the element of surprise. Making the best deals. Winning, first and foremost. Improbably, the election bore this story out. But what happens when a brand built on winning starts to lose?
Trump’s first major gambit was his executive order on immigration, and the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 9th Circuit’s swift ruling against it was an undeniable, and justified, loss. The bluster and bravado of his all-caps response – “SEE YOU IN COURT” – didn’t make that failure any less apparent.
While every new administration experiences setbacks, Trump’s unpreparedness and lack of organization clearly contributed to this early defeat and others that have come with it: a lackluster inauguration whose under-attendance was only highlighted by flagrant falsehoods about crowd size, a botched raid in Yemen, the resignation of a national security adviser over improper contacts with Russia. These fast-mounting failures set an ominous tone. It’s hard to trust the brand going forward.
But all is not lost. Marketing experts and corporate strategists would soothingly point out that setbacks aren’t necessarily the end of the story. A moment of crisis is an excellent opportunity to pivot – try a brand refresh, if you will. It worked for Burberry in the late ’90s. Why not Trump today?
The complication here is that this particular brand needs to be promoting an entirely different product now, one that may be beyond Trump’s reach. After Jan. 21, the country wanted not “Trump: The Renegade Candidate” but “Trump: The President of the United States.”
The image created by Trump over decades proved strong enough to fire up a targeted set of supporters and was appealing enough to draw in (or at least not push away) a meaningful number of less-committed voters. Today, however, much of America seems already to have tired of antagonism and division. The bombastic, shock-inducing tactics that worked for an “unconventional” candidate at closed rallies and carefully staged debates don’t have the same effect when deployed by the leader of the free world.
The presidential brand should reassure, resonate and inspire confidence on a global scale – not shock or alarm. The savvy winner invoked by the old Trump brand would have figured this out. The question is whether President Trump will.