Bulletproof Brands

Bulletproof Brands

19 February 2024

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To understand bulletproof brands, we need look no further than Donald Trump

The emotional ties between consumers and brands should never be underestimated. Their power can be immense, and their value to a business or brand owner - immeasurable. It’s why marketers spend so much time, effort and money building, shaping and communicating their brands. It’s also why certain brands survive moments of disaster, and others don’t. But why is that?

Nike’s emotionally charged consumer connections and brand power has meant that sweatshop scandals, lawsuits over gender discrimination, sneakers (apparently) emblazoned with ‘racist’ flags and accusations of forced labor have all been fended off with relative ease. VW’s ‘Emissionsgate’ was a juggernaut of a scandal when in 2015 it became known that 11 million of their diesel cars were emitting up to 40 times the nitrogen dioxide limit. And global mega-brand Apple has seen off more scandals than most, with 2017’s ‘Batterygate’ a biggie.

But, of course, all of these brands survived. Their rock-solid brand foundations and deeply rooted emotional connections acting like brand body armor against hostile PR. Traditionally, political brands have not fared so well - but one brand that seems to survived against a tidal wave of humiliation and disgrace is Brand Trump.

Donald Trump

The ultimate bulletproof brand?

As the world watched the dramatic events unfold at the Capitol building in Washington on January 6, 2021, most people thought they were watching the final lash out from a defeated political movement. Being linked to such an event was surely the final straw, the point of no return. But, as we’ve seen, the very strongest brands can fend off serious amounts of scandal - and this is exactly what Brand Trump has achieved. As of today, Trump has been charged to the tune of 91 felony counts across four criminal cases. A tiny percentage of any of this disastrous legal activity would instantly end any normal political brand. But today, Donald Trump is the clear favorite to return to the White House in November as President of the United States.

Over the past few months, Trump has blown other Republican presidential candidates out of the water, with a struggling Nicky Hayley his one remaining opponent. His primary wins have been won by unprecedented margins, and in a repeat general election run-off with President Joe Biden, some pollsters have Trump up by 5%.

So, how does he do it, and could he withstand the ultimate hit of being found guilty in a criminal court?

In truth, the legal cases and mainstream media negativity towards Trump has only strengthened Trump’s brand, the MAGA movement and the connection between followers and figureheads.

By Western democratic norms, Brand Trump has grown into an unrecognizable and unprecedented populist political movement with a dedicated and sizable base.

Across many American states, ‘Vote for Trump’ signs don’t need to be put up in front gardens this year, as they never came down. In certain pockets of certain States, Trump has moved from a political figure to part of people’s identity. His brand is that big and that powerful.

The language he uses, the enemies he creates, the nicknames he gives and the policies he focuses on all feed into a powerful and branded communications campaign.

When running in 2016 and during his four years as President, Trump created a powerful us versus them challenger mentality, which helped to fend off all accusations. And narratives around the ‘stolen election’ and the ‘deep state’ have continued to build this divide and proven to be a winning tactic for brand building.

So, in truth, the more accusations there are, the more court cases there are, and the more legal setbacks there are the stronger and more powerful the brand. It’s why he attends days in court - he loves the optics.

But, the ultimate question for Trump’s 2024 bid will be if his brand can survive a guilty verdict in a US Court. Would this finally turn enough middle-ground voters away from his brand of politics?

The recent ruling by a US Court that Trump does not have presidential immunity and can be prosecuted on charges of plotting to overturn the 2020 election, could be critical to legal and electoral timings, so he could be found guilty well before November.

If found guilty, Trump’s task would surely be nigh impossible? Facing a popular incumbent President or a young and energetic Democrat challenger, the odds would surely be against him. But Trump will meet 81-year-old President Biden, who has historically low approval ratings and health challenges, including his memory and recall.

And this year, just like in 2016, Trump will be the challenger. On a mission to save America and make it great again (again).

Nike, VW and Apple have shown that in times of peril – some brands are bulletproof. And whatever you, me, and the world think of Trump, given the power of his brand - I certainly wouldn’t bet against him.

Written by Jamie Williams.