The Physics of Brand: Can the Trump Brand Live in a Blind Trust?

physbrand_trump_rgbEditor’s Note: The following story was contributed by Aaron Keller, co-author of the recent book The Physics of Brand.


The United States just went through one of the most interesting elections in collective memory. The choice for President was between two brands: Clinton and Trump. Both had built strong brands, one in public service and the other in business. The final result was a surprise to many, especially the pollsters and some political pundits. The Trump brand was triumphant and now needs to be put in the attic or set aside in a blind trust to avoid any political conflicts.

But how can the last name of the President of the United States be separated from buildings and products with the same name? How can a corporate brand be separated when it is the reflection of a personal brand? How can the public be assured that family gatherings won’t talk about the family business or commingled matters of state with matters of personal brand building?

The stage is set for an unprecedented situation in the world of brands.

The Trump brand was profoundly more valuable before the election and it likely took a devaluation from the election, as the brand gained an angry anti-Trump crowd. Though, if you look at the most powerful brands, they are often polarizing in that they have an equally passionate fan and anti-fan base. Trump certainly gathered a new anti-fan base through the way he chose to run his race.

Now, why do we have politicians use a blind trust and how does a brand get put into a blind trust?

The structure of a blind trust is simply having a management team take over running the business and investment interests of the elected official. The official has no right to influence their decisions or see their investments, but can see the final returns each year. There’s no requirement to sell investments or put funds in any particular investment vehicle. This is done to remove any perceived or actual financial incentive from the elected official’s decision making when it comes to anything from foreign policy to bills signed into law.

So, what does this mean for the Trump brand?

The brand Trump means more than Donald Trump since his daughter, Ivanka, has taken over the design of hotels. Her style is seen as more modern and relevant for world travelers; thus developers are looking for her role to expand when it comes to the Trump brand on hotel properties. On a historical front, there are properties where if the Trump brand is removed there would be a significant drop in asset value because its a trusted brand known around the world. For those who have petitioned to remove the Trump signs from their residences, let’s be honest, what do you call the building after the signs are gone? Changing the signs doesn’t remove the brand.

How does the Trump brand come out the other side of our models in the book, The Physics of Brand?

We decided to run the Trump brand through our time model in The Physics of Brand. It includes three elements: moments where memories are made, aggregate memories over time and the velocity of moments happening.

The “you’re fired” moment from The Apprentice had a profound impact on the Trump brand in addition to the style and design of his properties and his flamboyant personality in the media. The brand was attributed to wealth, success in business and opulence. Because the Trump brand is tied to his family and to him individually, it has now taken on a much larger association: “leader of the free world.”

[Related: Read an except from The Physics of Brand.]

Trump was a celebrity brand, and he is now adding public servant brand to the memories we have of his brand. He essentially applied to work for the American people as a servant to us. So, you could say Donald Trump works for us now and this is where the “you’re fired” line could offer some cheesy jokes in the future. Putting all humor aside, the Trump brand now has public office moments and private business moments, so how does a blind trust keep those two from intersecting?

Since moments create memories and result in brand value, the Trump brand could certainly be more valuable after four or eight years. Yet, all politicians at the presidential level become brands and can profit from their brand after leaving office with speeches, guest appearances and licensing in abundance. So, while the brand may be in a blind trust run by his children, it continues to gain value and his decisions as president have the largest amount of influence as to whether he leaves office with a stronger or weaker brand in our memories. The moments he and his team design in public office and the moments his family designs in private business will certainly make more memories.

Brands also gain value from the total time people spend with a brand, and the world is about to spend a lot more time with Donald Trump. The Trump brand actually goes back to Donald’s father as a developer and now through 70 years of Donald’s life he has aggregated a tremendous volume of memorable moments for people intersecting with his brand. Whatever your view, the Trump brand built a mass of memories — some many would like to forget — including the acceptance speech to be the next President of the United States. In the traditional world of brands Kolter tells us that we hire a brand to do something for us. We (or an electoral portion of us) hired Trump to run the country for the next four years.

Brands also develop value through an increase in time people spend with a brand. The Trump brand is about to achieve lift off and in the age of social media, the Trump brand is the particle accelerator of brand velocity.

When in recent history does a political debate rank in viewership near the Super Bowl? Yes, it does make you question the electorate if more people are willing to sit down and watch a Super Bowl, but at least these political debates made it close. Put that aside and consider the frenzy the Trump brand brought to this election. Would it have been anywhere near the same if it was another Clinton-Bush snoozefest? The Trump brand will continue to garner velocity and while the businesses and traditional assets will be in a blind trust run by the kids (also with Trump names) it will never be the same.

[Related: Earn a certificate in branding from HOW Design University.]

What does all this mean for the Trump brand being set aside in a blind trust?

Like any other president, their name is their own and it is their brand, it is impossible to put the brand in a blind trust. But, in an entirely unprecedented way, the Trump brand was a tremendously valuable brand before the election and may have taken a sacrificial hit during the election. So, while we can put tangible assets in a blind trust, no one else can manage the intangible Trump brand like Donald. This is new territory for brands and for America.

Theoretically, Donald Trump is going to make decisions that align with his brand values.  So, what are the values of the Trump brand? Do the exercise yourself: study him as a brand and objectively (without political fervor or bias) make a list of values and behaviors based on what he has said and what he has done. It makes for an interesting exercise and allows you to see into what he may do as president, beyond the rhetoric.

More than any other president previously, the brand was larger than the man long before he made his acceptance speech. Today more than ever, we need a better way to understand the value a brand offers to human beings, corporations, society and in this specific case, a blind trust.

It is this author’s view that there’s nothing you can do to safely contain a global brand this large in a blind trust.


downloadFor more examples of modern brands put through these new models, check out the new book, The Physics of Brand.

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