Unlike Your Favorite Cereal, Clinton And Trump Don't Inspire Brand Loyalty

Oct 18, 2016
Originally published on October 18, 2016 5:44 pm

If presidential candidates Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump were consumer products, they wouldn't exactly be flying off the shelves, according to a firm that studies brand loyalty.

The Reputation Institute, which gauges how consumers view companies, politicians and even countries, gives Republican nominee Trump what it calls an overall "pulse score" of 31.7. Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton rates a bit better, at 38.7.

Any score less than 40 qualifies as having a "poor reputation," the firm says.

"Fundamentally, neither candidate has yet to capture the imagination of the American people based on the positive allure of their personal brands," a report released by the the Reputation Institute says.

"While Clinton maintains a slightly better reputation than Trump, the lack of emotional connection with her campaign and candidacy still renders her in a position of risk. Trump on the other hand is 7-pulse points behind Clinton on the merits of reputation, and has a significant amount of work to do to in order to turn the tide of reputational momentum his way."

The firm surveyed some 2,000 people to measure how they feel about Clinton and Trump. The surveys are different from traditional polling, which amounts to a "snapshot in time" and is more likely to be swayed by recent news events, says Stephen Hahn-Griffiths, vice president and managing director for the U.S. and Canada at Reputation Institute.

"We're in the field all the time so we're able to understand the trend lines of where public sentiment is going," he says.

"We're getting really into the recesses of their psyches to understand how strongly they identify with the person or the candidate. That ... provides us with a real 360-degree view of a candidate and really looks at it from the assessment of how do I think about Brand Trump versus Brand Clinton?"

Both Trump and Clinton are equally viewed as being ambitious, achievement-oriented, elitist, authoritarian and controlling, the report says.

Trump is seen as significantly more extroverted, daring, aggressive,
and arrogant. Clinton is more likely to be viewed as hardworking, reliable, secure and refined. But neither is perceived as being especially friendly, pleasant, concerned, honest, sincere or trustworthy.

Clinton is seen as much more presidential, based on perceptions of executive leadership ability, although the report states her "lack of emotional connection with her candidacy is holding her back – she needs to better define the Clinton brand."

"For Trump it seems that the lack of understanding and belief in his policy platform is a major impediment – he needs to get more specific on his position related to the key policies," the report says.

The Reputation Institute didn't begin surveying Trump until last March, so it can't say how much the current campaign has hurt his image.

But for a man who's built his fortune by leveraging his name into a symbol of luxury and quality, his poor ratings spell potential problems, Hahn-Griffiths says.

"A lot of the ... assumptions we might have made around the sort of lustre of Trump's brand and what it represents are certainly being questioned by our studies now going back through March.

"So we can look at this and say there's certainly some upsides to Trump's personality but certainly some major challenges that he might want to be course-correcting as we near the end of the presidential race," he adds.

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Donald Trump made his fortune in part by turning himself into a brand, one that stands for luxury and quality. He's placed his name on everything from casinos to steaks. Well, now there's some evidence that the acrimonious campaign is taking a toll on his image in a way that is hurting his businesses. NPR's Jim Zarroli reports.

JIM ZARROLI, BYLINE: The Trump Organization is famously private and doesn't release a lot of information about its revenue, so it's hard to say for sure just how well the company is doing at any given time. But management consultant Gene Grabowski of the firm kglobal says there's no question the campaign is hurting Trump's image.

GENE GRABOWSKI: I don't think there's any doubt that the Trump's brand is suffering. The only question is, how much is it suffering?

ZARROLI: And the evidence so far is spotty. The Reputation Institute researches the brand value of products, companies, people, even countries. It just released a report saying both Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump have what it considers poor reputations with the general public, but it says Trump's image is especially bad right now. Stephen Hahn-Griffiths is the vice president for the U.S. and Canada at the company.

STEPHEN HAHN-GRIFFITHS: Overwhelmingly, perceptions of him being arrogant, aggressive, authoritarian, even somewhat controlling are really starting to taint the perception of brand Trump and not really position it in his most positive light possible.

ZARROLI: The Reputation Institute only started surveying people's feelings about Trump this year, so it can't say for sure how much his troubles can be blamed on the campaign. But Foursquare has been looking into the question ever since Trump threw his hat in the ring.

The company uses an app to track foot traffic in stores, restaurants and other commercial establishments all over the world. Editor at large Sarah Spagnolo says in the 15 months since Trump announced, foot traffic at his businesses is down 17 percent, and the drop is even greater among women.

SARAH SPAGNOLO: Other hotels are not losing foot traffic as dramatically as Trump branded hotels, casinos and golf courses. And what this tells us is that Trump's campaign is truly having an impact on foot traffic to his properties.

ZARROLI: None of this is definitive, and the Trump Organization says the data is inconsequential and does not provide an accurate representation of its performance. But there are other signs the brand is hurting. The company recently announced a new hotel chain that for the first time doesn't use the Trump name, and all of this happened before the release of that infamous "Access Hollywood" video automatically.


DONALD TRUMP: You know, I'm automatically attracted to beautiful - I just start kissing them. It's like a magnet. I just kiss. I don't even wait. And when you're a star, they let you do it.

ZARROLI: All of this is a potential disaster for the Trump Organization. Before the campaign, Trump's name was considered so valuable that other people paid to put it on their products. He didn't have to use his own money. Now, says Stephen Hahn-Griffiths, that name may have been irreparably harmed.

HAHN-GRIFFITHS: There are certainly some upsides to Trump's personality but certainly some major challenge that if we were to advise him, he might want to be course correcting as we near the end of the presidential race.

ZARROLI: The question is whether a course correction is even possible. Take for instance the new Trump International Hotel and Tower in Vancouver which is supposed to open in January. A poll said more than half of the city's residents want to see Trump's name removed from the project, including the city's mayor. Jim Zarroli, NPR News, New York. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.