Editor’s Note: David Sable is CEO of Young & Rubicam. Will Johnson is president of BAV Consulting. Owned by Young & Rubicam Group, BAV studies brand equity. The opinions expressed in this commentary are theirs.
Branding experts say Trump's campaign is burdened with a leader whose personal image is suffering
Consumers give Trump lower scores for being distinctive, fun, trendy and stylish, they say
Reeling from allegations of sexual assault and falling poll numbers, Donald Trump insists that his “movement powered by millions of people” remains strong. Diehards will stick with the GOP presidential candidate to the end, but his campaign is no juggernaut.
It is instead a sputtering machine burdened with a leader who is becoming the one thing Trump never was before – boring.
Our company, Young & Rubicam, has studied Trump’s consumer brand for many years through surveys and other market research, and our most recent results are eye-opening. In our surveys ending September 30, Trump experiences sharp declines, compared with just three months earlier, in the scores relating to whether people are excited by a celebrity, leader or consumer brand.
Because he has sought to appeal to voters mainly as an unconventional choice, Trump has depended far more on personality than gravitas to sell himself. But it is becoming clear that the public is no longer intrigued by him. Consider the following scores:
– Consumers who say Trump is distinctive – down 10%
– Fun – down 13%
– Trendy – down 17%
– Stylish – down 21%
These numbers reflect responses from more than 1,000 people who were selected to represent the United States in microcosm. Included are people from all age groups, income levels, political affiliations, races, religions and regions.
Swing voter problem
Trump is becoming boring even to Republicans, but his worst performance is among those who identify as political independents or members of smaller political parties. Among these folks, who could be considered swing voters, Trump is 17% less fun, a whopping 37% less “dynamic” and 30.6% less distinctive that he was just 90 days ago. This same cohort found Trump to be 31% less “unique.”
The implications for Donald Trump the politician are dire. Although he keeps talking about himself as a political “outsider,” he is rapidly losing the credibility to make such a claim. Among independents and political “others,” Trump suffered a 10.7% decline in his score for independence. This means that he is losing his renegade’s appeal. Instead he has become the object of ridicule on “Saturday Night Live,” where he is regularly portrayed as an incoherent, self-defeating boor.
As reputation experts we advise many of the world’s top corporations and leaders in business and politics. Our main tool is a continuously updated database, established in the 1990s and built on more than millions of interviews. It is called the Brand Asset Valuator.
We have gathered BAV data on Trump for more than a decade and in the past noted he consistently scored well on measures of prestige and luxury that could be gathered together under the term “glamour.” This status meant that Trump and his businesses appealed to moneyed individuals who could afford to stay at his high-end hotels and play at his expensive golf courses. The name “Trump” was similarly attractive to people who might not be able to afford his upscale offerings but dreamed of the day when they could.
Trump’s glamour scores began to decline after 2010 when he became the face of the so-called “birther” movement, which sought to delegitimize Barack Obama’s presidency by raising doubts about whether he was born in his native Hawaii. (The constitution permits only American-born citizens to serve as president.)
We cannot make a direct connection between Trump’s declining glamour scores and birtherism, but the coincidence is notable. And the trend has continued. In the last three months his “glamour” score has dropped 17.6% among all adults and a remarkable 51% among swing voters.
Win or lose, Trump and his family will want to continue his business operations after the election. Although speculation abounds that the candidate might start an alt-right media company if he loses, his family empire will still hold many businesses branded with the Trump name.
In the past he has bragged about a premium that attaches to Trump real estate projects, and he pegged the value of his image in the billions of dollars. But if you take this claim at face value, then the data on Trump’s faltering image suggest he is inflicting real damage on the Trump Organization’s single most important asset.
Even before the third-quarter numbers came in, Trump stood on shaky ground with consumers. They have felt less loyal to his brand since he began his campaign last year with a tirade that drove Macy’s, Univision and others to abandon him as a business partner.
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Anecdotal evidence of Trump’s brand erosion can be found at his newest hotel, in a former post office on Pennsylvania Avenue in Washington, D.C. New York Magazine reports bookings have been so poor that room rates are being reduced.
If the tracking polls are accurate and Trump goes down to defeat, his brand could suffer. Ridiculed on “SNL,” he may be fast becoming so uncool that many – apart from his base of staunch supporters – don’t want to be associated with anything he sells.
Of course his hotels, buildings and golf courses – in which he holds varying equity stakes – are hard assets that will retain intrinsic value. But if Trump wants them to perform as money-makers, they might have to be rebranded.