Donald Trump has drawn large crowds on the campaign trail with his populist rhetoric, but the more controversial aspects of his campaign may have done more to blemish than burnish his namesake brand, some experts say.
The Republican presidential nominee took a break from the trail Wednesday to mark the opening of Trump International Hotel. Trump said at the opening ceremony that it is “with the notable exception of 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue ... the most coveted piece of real estate in Washington, D.C."
The newly-opened hotel may serve as a test case for whether the brand he bestows on properties around the world may be boosted or hamstrung by his often controversial bid for the White House.
“There has never been a big separation between the corporate brand and his personal brand,” said Alfredo Fraile, managing director for the Americas at Saffron Consultants in Miami.
Fraile and other experts told ABC News that the lack of daylight between Trump the man and Trump the brand could potentially hurt his business ventures.
Trump is, “basically a personality-led brand,” said Mark Radda, a brand strategist in Cambridge, U.K. “The thing about Donald Trump is that he’s much more explicit about what the brand is, and as soon as you start changing the perceptions that people have about you, you start to change people’s perceptions about the brand.”
While political campaigns are often polarizing, Trump’s campaign has been remarkable in the controversy it has generated over the past 16 months.
“I think that people are going to be having second thoughts,” Fraile said of potential customers. “If they don’t agree with his position in terms of politics, they might think about going to one of his competitors, rather than one of his hotels.”
Fraile’s hypothesis can be backed up by data from Foursquare, a social media company that tracks users’ “check-ins” at businesses.
Earlier this month, the company reported that visits to Trump-branded hotels, casinos and golf courses in the U.S. were down 19 percent in September 2016 versus the same month in 2014.
A Trump Hotels spokesperson told Travel + Leisure magazine for an Oct. 21 article that the data from Foursquare and other sources "is manipulated to appear meaningful, when, in reality, the information is inconsequential and does not provide an accurate representation of our performance."
However, the social media company’s data is supported by research done by Will Johnson at BAV Consulting, a brand research firm.
"Particularly among higher-income consumers, those making more than $150,000 to $200,000 per year, you’ve had very sharp declines in things like prestige, trust, esteem -- how highly do they regard him," Johnson told ABC News of the effects of the campaign, adding that those indicators are "the kind of key attributes for his luxury hotels, golf courses -- things that are drivers for consideration of those brands.”
“That’s the irony. The brand has historically targeted those highly-affluent consumers, and those have been most alienated by the campaign,” Johnson added.
Matt Quint, director of the Center on Global Brand Leadership at Columbia Business School in New York, said that “it’s hard to separate Trump now from the mean-spiritedness that he has had during the campaign.”
Traditionally, Quint explained, people were divided between being fans of Trump or apathetic towards him, “whereas now they are people who are actually antagonistic."
No Longer a Winner?
While the Trump brand may remain alluring to his supporters or those left unfazed by the bombast of election 2016, a negative result on Election Day could cause the Trump name to lose luster, according to experts interviewed by ABC News.
Sam Hornsby, managing partner at the Flamingo Group, a brand consultancy in New York, said that the GOP presidential nominee has eroded the Trump brand equity -- the value derived from brand perception.
“What you have here now are changing equities from things like ‘success,' ‘performance’ and ‘winning' to the inclusion of new associations such as ‘scandal,' ‘bigotry’ and -- depending on the outcome of Nov. 8 -- actually ‘losing.' So, the overall impression of the brand in terms of its equities has actually changed through this campaign,” Hornsby said.
And if he were to lose on Election Day, the brand could suffer even worse.
“The [Trump] name itself means essentially to win something over someone,” he said. “If you look at the way the election is playing out now, where there’s a potential scenario for the meaning of the word to become completely inverted, we can see a situation where ‘to get Trumped’ means to lose significantly.”
If Trump loses the election, there's even a possibility that the phrase becomes an internet meme on sites like Urban Dictionary or on social media, Hornsby said.
“Through the campaign, he’s brought all of his personal quirks and eccentricities to the Trump brand. And as a result, that has made the brand more personal, and therefore more susceptible to consumer scrutiny,” he explained. “Before, it stood with something a little more abstract -- perhaps a lifestyle.”
If Trump’s brand does indeed become tarnished, it could hit his bottom line, experts said.
“Globally, licensing his brand in the future is going to be a challenge,” Quint said. “I’d be surprised if he’s as successful in the future.”
And Quint's theory may already be playing out.
In December, Reuters reported that a Dubai-based real estate firm stripped the Trump name from a $6 billion golf complex that is under construction after the candidate called for a ban on all Muslims entering the United States.
The Trump Organization did not immediately respond to emails seeking comment.
But in a deposition that was conducted earlier in the summer and emerged in August, Trump said that the campaign had had a “very positive impact” on business at his Mar-a-Lago club in Palm Beach, Florida.
But the experts also said that Trump could still remain a very successful businessman even if he were to lose the election.
“A lot of his supporters are going to buy into the idea that the election was ‘rigged,' so they’re not going to see him as a loser now," Quint said. "He was cheated out of success, they’ll think.”
Depending on what Trump does after the election, there's an opportunity "for the Trump Brand, and for his children running the brand, to become something new if Donald Trump chooses to step away from being a massive personal brand on the media landscape,” Quint added.
Radda, the U.K.-based brand consultant, said that if Trump were to lose the election and his brand were to suffer, he would “need to look at whether he should tone down the way his brands are named -- whether the Trump name should be so prominent.”
Hornsby agreed, saying that one solution would be to create sub-brands under the Trump umbrella.
The seeds for that may already have been sowed.
Late last month, the Trump Organization announced a new brand for a collection of properties around the globe: Scion, "which means ‘descendant of a notable family,'" the announcement said.