Trump brand damage concern: Donald Trump lesson exposed

Posted by Opinion piece by Joe Lederman on 24th October 2016

The Donald Trump presidential campaign has been dogged by controversy, but one Tweet by his son stirred a connection to the food industry. It was about a bowl of Skittles.


The controversy started a few weeks ago when Donald Trump Jnr, Donald Trump’s son, tweeted a photograph of a bowl of Skittles with text that read:


“If I had a bowl of skittles and I told you just three would kill you.

Would you take a handful?

That’s our Syrian refugee problem”


The text was accompanied with the Trump-Pence election campaign logo and its “Make America Great Again!” slogan.

The photograph of the Skittles was however used without permission from the photographer, David Kittos, who was also a refugee.

Kittos is now suing the Trump campaign for damages and asking for an apology to be issued.

Trump’s team defended the tweet saying Donald Trump Jnr is a “tremendous asset to the campaign”.  Owner of the Skittles brand, Wrigley, said in a statement that it did not feel that the analogy was appropriate, saying “Skittles are candy. Refugees are people.”

The risks of ongoing brand damage

Although there is a lesson, about getting permission for copyrighted imagery out of the Skittles controversy, the 2016 Trump election campaign provides a much greater lesson in brand damage for food, beverage and all types of businesses.

In analysing the Trump campaign, some have argued that there is “no such thing as bad publicity” and that the attempt to become president has allowed him to remind the world of him and his brand over and over.

This side of the coin might be tempting to believe until you continuously come across story after story about people and businesses choosing to boycott the Trump brand.

For example:

  • Major US department store Macy’s decided to stop selling Trump branded clothes. Macy’s said it did not want to sell products from anyone running for president but the decision was made after Trump made controversial comments about Mexican immigrants in 2015.
  • Baseball player Adrian Gonzalez refused to stay with the rest of his LA Dodgers team in May 2016 when they were put up in a Trump hotel. He said “he had his reasons” for not staying.
  • Univision, the television network which aired Trump’s Miss Universe pageant, decided to stop doing so after his controversial remarks about Mexicans.
  • The PGA and ESPN moved golf tournaments away from Trump courses.
  • Recently the World Bank – IMF meetings were held in Washington and according to the New York Magazine, Trump’s hotel was the only luxury hotel in Washington struggling to fill its rooms.

Is Trump even boycotting his own name?

The Trump brand itself is now even being accused of moving away from its own brand due to the election. Late last week it was confirmed new luxury Trump hotels will not go by the Trump name and will instead be called ‘Scion’ (although according to hotel CEO Eric Danzinger, the name was chosen is to distinguish between Trump’s ‘luxury’ and ‘lifestyle’ resorts).

Trump no longer synonymous with luxury and success

Prior to the 2016 US election campaign, for the average person in America or even Australia, Trump was likely just considered a successful business figure who was a bit of a character. His brands were usually synonymous with luxury and ‘top quality’.

Now whenever the word Trump is mentioned, various negative associations are likely to come to mind.

In January 2010, Australian Food News wrote about how lamb advocate Sam Kekovich received an endorsement from Trump as part of a campaign to take Australian lamb global. It is hard to think many businesses today would now take the risk of having Trump as a supporter or endorser. Where once he was associated with success and luxury, now too many other thoughts are likely to come to mind for the average consumer.

Trump has loyal hard-core followers

Trump still has a very solid fan base, which US advertising experts estimate to exceed 30 million Americans. This group could create new business opportunities for the Trump family business.

However, this is a very different demographic from that of the Trump brand customers who once aspired to the success and business status of the Trump name perception before the US presidential campaign.

Selling t-shirts and baseball caps or bargain items to the working-poor on a cable TV network would be a very different business model from selling to people aspiring to an upper-class lifestyle.

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