One thing about Donald Trump’s upcoming presidency is unavoidable: he will be a different brand of politician.
Whether he is a kitten, pushed over and handled by VP Mike Pence, or the truly outrageous and unwrangled anti-politician, Trump will be not be the same. What’s also different is something that seems unprecedented for a president: Trump, the politician, will continue to have Trump, the brand, out in the world. What does that mean? While you live in Trump’s America, you can continue to wear Trump clothing and drink Trump wine and scent yourself with Trump cologne and live in your Trump hotels, where you feed on your Trump steaks as you watch your Trump TV. The brand extension of our upcoming president will be reminiscent of a lost episode of Black Mirror, where your expression of Americanness is tied to consumerism as it relates to the Commander In Chief.
This is bizarre, no? And it is a possible reality. Look at this photo that Politico shared on Instagram last week.
For those missing what’s going on, the above photo is of Speaker Of The House Paul Ryan with President-elect Donald Trump and wife Melania Trump looking at the nation’s capital from the speaker’s balcony at the United State Capitol. The caption concludes with the dark, strange warning, “Trump’s hotel can be seen in the distance down Pennsylvania Avenue.” Oh god.
That’s weird, no? That a president could have a branded hotel down the street from his house, for people to come and play-act his “presidential” lifestyle before, during, and after his presidency. Isn’t that strange? While it has been in the works for four years (but finishing two years ahead of schedule, of course), the frightful dump is alarming brand extension to capitalize on his taking the capital.
More concerning still is that the Trump presidency likely won’t overtake branded endeavors. As the New York Times reported, there’s a possibility that Trump might split his time between DC and NYC, between the White House and Trump Tower, effectively spreading the political sheets between two cities and two lives. Yet, as NPR shared earlier this year, no one really knows Trump’s role in the business—now or in the future—since it’s all privately held.
It hasn’t always been easy to determine what his role in these ventures was, and how much of his own money — if any — went into them. While Trump eagerly serves as pitchman for the steaks, bottled water and suits that bear his name, he also has courted a certain ambiguity about his involvement.
“It’s hard to tell when you’re walking by a project, or you’re a consumer looking to buy, whether the development is something he has lent or sold or rented his name [to], or whether it’s one where he has his own money at risk or has his own development company in charge of doing the work,” said Michael Cohen, Tri-State president of Colliers International, who has worked with Trump.
That’s somewhat relieving? Regardless, his branding will still exist and things like Trump TV are real possibilities. You can imagine sales increasing, more people living the Trump lifestyle, indulging a vaguely communist something where citizens are forcefully suggested to wear certain clothing and use certain products. We’d live an eerie reality inspired by Orwell, drawing from both Animal Farm and 1984.
Stranger still is that it doesn’t end with The Donald: his daughter, Ivanka, will likely step up and be seen and heard as further brand extension for President Trump. Unlike First Lady figurehead Melania, whose point of view has been under the radar, Ivanka has been very present as an aspirational female figure during the campaign so much so that people started to actively, vocally boycot her goods. This in mind, it’s easy to see Melania taking a quieter role in the White House while Ivanka fulfills more presidential duties as to extend her and Trump’s brand in a way Melania can’t (while reenforcing the creepy relationship between the father and daughter). Ivanka will be easier to call out but her “living lifestyle brand” will continue on as aspirational for those in the majority who voted for Trump, who find his family lovely, who think beautiful Ivanka is the epitome of an all American girl.
Who knows if Trump’s presidency will be as bad as it seems and who knows if his brand extension will become truly frightening: it is too early to tell. We can theorize all we want but one thing is undeniable: Trump’s brand is now political. It represents so much and, if you agree with him, you will literally buy into it. Ad Age captured this very nicely (Frighteningly?) in June.
Howard Opinsky, exec VP-corporate advisory practice leader at Hill & Knowlton Strategies, who served as a Republican campaign strategist for years, said the days of brands being void of a political voice are over.
“Whenever brands take a political stance, they tend to both turn away a number of potential customers that might otherwise want to work with them and attract a group of advocates,” said Mr. Opinsky. He said businesses have to decide if they want to engage a broad audience or one with intensely loyal, like-minded people.
At this point, it’s “virtually impossible” for any of the businesses to distance themselves from Mr. Trump’s campaign, but Mr. Opinsky said he wouldn’t advise them to anyway because “I don’t know if anyone would buy it.”
Time will tell for the Trump brand. And time will tell for America if the nation as a whole becomes one, big, gross, blonde brand extended reality of Trump Nation.
If interested, you can learn about boycotting Trump brands here.