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Pundits Are Wrong. Donald Trump’s Brand Could Survive a Disastrous Election

October 28, 2016, 5:00 PM UTC
Photograph by Getty Images

Let’s assume Donald Trump loses. The polls and forecasting models could be wrong, of course; there’s a decent chance they’re underestimating turnout by Trump supporters. But let’s say the models are right and Trump wakes up in 12 days as a businessman deciding what to do next. What will he do? Despite heavy prognosticating to the contrary, he could be in an excellent position to make a lot of money.

Much of the media, including Fortune, speculated on the damage that Trump’s campaign has done to his brand. It’s certainly true that millions of Americans who previously paid him little attention now despise him, but it’s equally true that millions of others now adore him. To understand what’s happening to brand Trump, consider two overlooked but important realities:

Research by the Young & Rubicam ad agency has established that brand strength springs from two sources – differentiation and relevance. That’s true regardless of whether a brand is widely known or well liked. From the day he came down the Trump Tower escalator to announce his candidacy last year, Trump has been this race’s most differentiated candidate, and he’s extremely relevant, even to those who loathe him; otherwise he wouldn’t get under their skin. Love him or hate him, his brand has become even stronger.



The people to whom his brand appeals have changed, but that doesn’t necessarily make it less valuable. The Trump brand has long been schizoid, both upscale and down-market. His buildings and golf courses have succeeded at the high end, while Trump-branded consumer products like clothing are decidedly downscale; Donald Trump Success for Men Eau de Toilette is sold at Walmart, for example. His campaign has apparently tarnished his high-end brand, which has been the main source of his wealth, but his millions of new followers could power new post-election opportunities at the low end. A much-rumored possibility is a media business built on his increased brand strength and man-of-the-people persona.

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So the new Trump International Hotel in Washington may suffer, as may the value of condos in Trump Tower on Fifth Avenue, though the retail businesses in that property may do just fine with the neighborhood’s hordes of tourists. More deeply, his transformed brand may offer him a way past the trauma of losing (if he loses). Five hours of recorded interviews with Trump, recently shared by his biographer with the New York Times, revealed that public humiliation may be his greatest fear. Yet this real estate tycoon whose businesses have repeatedly gone bankrupt, whose personal net worth was once negative $900 million, also says on the tapes, “I never had a failure because I always turned a failure into a success.” He could do it again.