Brand Trump

How the developer-cum-TV star-cum-presidential candidate became a living product


Donald John Trump wasn’t always a brand.

In fact, he was almost a movie director—until, he once said, he “decided real estate was a much better business.” That was 1964. Young Trump set off for Wharton and then chose to take Manhattan. He did some deals, built some buildings, decided they looked better with his name on them. You know the rest: Trump Tower, Trump Plaza, Trump Taj Mahal casino, et al.

But somewhere along the line, The Donald crossed into that magical world where only the likes of Oprah get to go: His name became a brand. “A brand unto himself,” offers one marketer. “Only a brand, with no substance underneath it,” jabs another.

The billion-dollar question: How? This model of American success has paid four visits to bankruptcy court. His popularity ratings are “as bad as they’ve always been—they’ve never been otherwise,” says Q Scores president Steven Levitt. “Four-and-a-half times more people are turned off by him than turned on.” Yet that hasn’t stopped Trump from affixing his name to condos, casinos, books, golf clubs, an airline, a furniture collection, a menswear label, boxed chocolate, loose tea, and bottled water. It hasn’t stopped him from getting a TV show, nor from dabbling—three times—with a run for the Oval Office, nor from being unapologetically, unrelentingly Donald Trump. So let’s just ask: Does he actually see himself as a kind of living brand? “Absolutely,” says one of his spokespersons.

Witness one of the miracles of the American mise-en-scène: Trump has fed us so much Trump that we’ve come to accept what he stands for—luxury, success, fearlessness—even if we don’t quite cotton to the man. Says Gregg Lipman of marketing consultancy CBX: “Much like Ralph Lipshitz—uh, Ralph Lauren—Trump has effectively created a brand that stands for something more than himself.”

Brand Trump has been decades in the making. Turn the page to a look at how we got here.

Continue to next page →