Trump brand loses lustre with affluent

NEW YORK, N.Y. – Event planner Beth Bernstein decided she had had enough with Donald Trump after his 2005 hot-mic boasts about groping women came to light earlier this month. She removed photos of weddings she had thrown at a Trump hotel in Chicago from her website, wrote to hotel staff to remove her from the list of “preferred vendors” and posted a sort of call to arms on her blog.

“I simply cannot bring myself to walk in the door there any longer,” wrote the owner of SQN Events.

The Republican nominee for president is in danger of losing not just the election, but something dear to a man who claims the marketing value of his name alone is worth $3 billion: the many customers, mostly wealthy, who have stayed at his hotels or booked them for weddings, played a round at his golf courses or held galas at his oceanside resorts.

Experts say the Trump brand is tarnished and at a tricky crossroads as his appeal shifts from the well-heeled, high-income people he has long courted to a more middle-class base, including the fervent fans he cultivated during the campaign.

“The current trajectory is very harmful to his businesses,” said Scott Galloway, a marketing professor at New York University.

Ever confident, the business mogul has denied his campaign has dimmed the gilded allure of his five-lettered name and has said, if anything, it has burnished the brand and boosted his business. In a statement, Amanda Miller, vice-president of marketing at the Trump Organization, said: “The Trump brand remains incredibly strong and we are seeing tremendous success across business units.”

Evidence of that is hard to see at Trump’s new hotel in Washington, which Trump has declared the “best” in the city. It appears to have gotten off to a slow start.

A room at the Trump International Hotel with a king size bed and a city view could have been yours any night of the week starting Nov. 14 for $505 or $555, according to a check of the hotel’s website last week. By contrast, five major luxury competitors in the city generally charged more — sometimes hundreds of dollars more — or were sold out.

The managing director of Trump’s new hotel, which the candidate will formally open with a ribbon-cutting on Wednesday, disputes that it’s struggling.

“With 10 years of experience with Trump Hotels, I can easily say the opening of Trump International Hotel, Washington, D.C., has been the most successful in terms of opening bookings, interest from groups and large events,” said Mickael Damelincourt in a statement.

Some customers are clearly turned off by Trump’s derogatory remarks about women and immigrants, though, and the fallout is spreading beyond the hotels.

A woman angry about Trump’s groping comments, and his daughter’s continued support for him, created a “#GrabYourWallet” hashtag on Twitter to boycott the Ivanka Trump Collection, which includes handbags, shoes, jewelry and clothes. On Monday alone it was viewed more than half a million times.

Some charities, including the Susan G. Komen Foundation are considering moving events from Trump’s properties, including the Mar-A-Lago Club in Palm Beach, Florida. On Monday, three U.S. senators sent a letter to the U.S. Golf Association to move the 2017 U.S. Women’s Open from a course owned by Trump following protests from others.

It’s difficult to know how any future loss of hotel bookings and weddings, charity galas and tournaments could hurt Trump, because his businesses are privately held. But he’s vulnerable because many Trump hotels and residential towers are owned by others who pay him to place his name over the entrance — and could possibly cut him out someday. That’s already being threatened at Trump Place in Manhattan, where a petition to remove his name from the residential building has gotten 328 signatures in a few days.

Foursquare, which tracks people’s locations via their smartphones, said people are visiting Trump golf properties, hotels, resorts and other properties much less often relative to rival venues. According to its most recent data, share of foot traffic was down 19 per cent in September, compared with 2014, before Trump announced his candidacy.

In a statement, Eric Danziger, CEO of Trump Hotels, a collection of more than dozen hotels, called the Foursquare data “manipulated” and “inconsequential,” and said it does not “provide an accurate representation of our performance.”

Not all the data point to a slowdown.

The home listing site Streeteasy compared prices for Trump-branded condos in 16 buildings in Manhattan to similar ones nearby and has found no evidence the brand has been damaged. In fact, Trump condos sold for 5.6 per cent more in August than they did a year earlier, versus a drop for rivals.

Still, there’s evidence of a shift in Trump’s demographic base, from the affluent to the more aspirational middle class.

Will Johnson, an analyst at research firm BAV Consulting, which monitors brand perception for 3,500 brands, said that the Trump brand was “collapsing” among people with a household income of over $100,000 a year but soaring among those making less. During the first nine months of the year, among that latter group, there was a 21 per cent rise in people who think Trump “cares about customers” and a 14 per cent increase in those who think he is a “visionary,” according to BAV.

Some say Trump could capitalize on that shift.

“In the short run, business gets damaged, but in the long run there’s a lot of opportunity with less aspirational brands that target the middle- and lower-class,” NYU’s Galloway said. “I think the Trump brand effectively dies in a Manhattan, but it thrives in some of the lower income, very red regions.”

One way to do that: start a conservative media network, as some analysts have floated.

“He could start the ultimate ‘bro’ news network that caters to his core constituency,” Galloway said. “He could out-offend Fox.”


AP Business Writer Scott Mayerowitz in New York contributed to this report. Bernard Condon can be reached at