Several news stories recently suggested that Trump's campaign, fueled by his personal endorsement of his ability and right to commit sexual assault, was damaging the Trump brand.
As evidence of this, CNN cited a report that bookings at his casinos and hotels are sharply down, prompting Trump to sidetrack to promote his recently-opened (and sparsely booked) Washington D.C. hotel. In addition, a grassroots group has been boycotting sales of Ivanka Trump's line of clothing.
That Trump's favorability rating was down to 31 percent from a post-convention high of 38 percent would seem to lend credence to the notion that the Trump brand is a disaster in the making.
However, while a favorability rating of 31 percent is exceedingly low for a presidential candidate this close to an election, it's actually much higher than the Trump brand has historically enjoyed.
In May 2011, Steven Levitt, president of the brand valuation firm Q Scores, told Adweek that Trump's popularity ratings "are as bad as they've always been ... four-and-a-half times more people are turned off by him than turned on."
In other words, before Trump entered the political arena in 2011 by spreading racist lies about President Obama, the Trump brand enjoyed a favorability rating of 18 percent. Back then, he was only around half as popular as he is today.
More important, many of Trump's political supporters are wildly enthusiastic about him, so that the Trump brand almost seems to echo the product evangelism usually associated with strong corporate brands like Apple and Starbucks.
As I've noted in a previous post, any brand that people really love will also have a set of people who loathe it. Consider: Don't you know at least one person who hates the entire Apple fanboy shtick?
It's true that many people who probably never gave the Trump brand a second thought five years ago now actively hate him and the brand alike. However, their hatred makes Trump's supporters love him all the more. That's how branding works.
Weak brands create weak emotions that drive weak sales. Strong brands create strong emotions that drive strong sales. As long as those sales take place, it doesn't matter whether the strong emotions are negative or positive. In branding, love and hate are two sides of the same coin.
In terms of the amount of pure emotion it creates, the Trump brand is arguably stronger than the Apple brand. While Apple sales dwarf Trump sales, that's comparing apples to orangeheads. When it comes to emotion, Trump beats Apple hands down.
That's relevant in a business sense because the demographic profile of Trump's supporters matches the traditional demographic target of Trump's branded products.
While the Trump brand is outwardly positioned as luxurious and upscale, it's always had its greatest appeal for the sort of down-scale wannabes who are impressed by lavish tackiness like solid gold bathroom fixtures.
Trump's branded products--Trump Wine, Trump Steaks, Trump University, Trump's books, etc.--are targeted not at the rich but at those who hope, by aping Trump, to bask in a pale reflection of his lifestyle.
In other words, Trump's political supporters are the very people to whom Trump has been hawking his products. By contrast, the people who now hate Trump and his brand were never his potential customers nor likely to become customers.
Trump's reality TV show is a case in point. The primary appeal of The Apprentice was the working-class schadenfreude of watching Trump fire the kind of upscale professionals and celebrities who are doing quite well in the real world.
Much like Trump's candidacy, The Apprentice was revenge fantasy for the downwardly mobile.
Seen in that light, Trump's candidacy has raised the visibility of (and strengthened the attachment to) the Trump brand among those people who were and are most likely to buy Trump-branded products or stay at Trump properties.
Which leads us to the election.
Regardless of whether Trump wins or loses, he'll remain a hero to his supporters. Any products that he launches--and make no mistake, win or lose, there will be Trump-branded products--will sell well to his newly-loyal customer base.
If, for instance, Trump launches his own television network in competition with Fox, it will begin broadcasting with huge brand equity, guaranteeing its success whether it's run out of Trump Tower (if he loses) or the White House (if he wins).
So regardless of what happens on November 8, the Trump brand will emerge from the election burnished rather than tarnished. Indeed, from a branding perspective, Trump has already won, and won bigly.
Those who believe that Trump's brand has taken a huge hit should remember the immortal words of H.L. Mencken: "No one ever went broke underestimating the intelligence of the American public."