Lies. Exaggerations. Facts and figures thrown around based on popularity and something called "mental math" Welcome to Branding 101, courtesy of Professor Donald Trump.
The Donald is in a New Jersey state court defending his, er, reputation from the conclusions made in 2005 in a book entitled TrumpNation by New York Times editor Timothy O'Brien. The book cites anonymous sources pegging Trump’s net worth at somewhere between $150 and $250 million. Trump says it's more like $4 billion or more, and that the low-ball numbers caused him to lose out on deals all over the world.
"The publishing company will pay me hundreds of millions of dollars," he says.
Now, what is the variable that completes the equation, and turns one estimate in the low hundreds of millions..into the other estimate of multiple billions?
In the few tidbits I've read, culled from his deposition or various comments he's made publicly, Trump makes no bones about his squishy, thumb-in-the-media method of brand valuation. Here are his branding tips for all you budding brand gurus:
- Fib. He has no compunction stating things that he knows aren't true, like declaring his investment interest in one property as "equated" to something more because of the value of his brand
- Twist. He's an owner of at least one property because of the licensing agreement to use his name, so he would "...say that it could be interpreted to be a form of ownership."
- Fantasize. When challenged on the net loss of $4.6 million for an investment in a golf course, Trump imagines that he'd eventually make $120 million...based on what he calls "mental projections."
In fact, when challenged on a 2007 estimate of his net worth as $4 billion or more, he counters that $6 billion would be a better number, counting his brand value. And then, in the same deposition, when asked if he has ever exaggerated, he replies, "I think everybody does. Who wouldn't?"
So what's the truth?
I say it doesn’t matter. Sure, the court can and should decide if the author purposefully misstated Trump's net worth, but I think that's going to be all but impossible, considering that Trump has made a career of doing the same thing. How could low-ball estimates be a crime if sometimes, er, rosy projections aren't?
No, the truth is that Donald Trump is a genius. I can't help but respect him for what he has accomplished. I have no idea if he knows squat about real estate, but it doesn't matter to me; he understands, perhaps instinctively, the miracle of marketing and, as Daniel Boorstin called it, the potential of the "pseudo-event."
Trump's business is to appear to be in business. He is successful at appearing successful and, as such, he follows in a line of stars who are famous for being famous. Charro. Paris Hilton. Dennis Rodman, and all the numbnut has-beens who show up on Trump's celebrity wrestling TV show.
In this sense, the lawsuit about his worth is just another strategic decision for him, as no event that creates publicity for him can hurt what he does, truly, since what he does is create publicity for himself.
So class, Professor Trump clearly has important things to teach us about the uses of branding. I'm just not sure you want to apply his tips to your next new product launch.
Or do you?