Timothy Dewhirst is associate professor in the marketing and consumer studies department, College of Business and Economics, at the University of Guelph.
After Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump's offensive proposal to ban Muslims from entering the United States late last year, a number of Canadians, including city councillors and planners, called for the renaming of Trump-branded buildings in Toronto and Vancouver.
Mere months later, it appears those calls may soon be realized, with the Trump International Hotel & Tower Toronto on the verge of becoming Trump-less.
As The Globe and Mail reported Friday, the loan financing the troubled Bay Street property has gone into default and the property is on the verge of bankruptcy. As the developer and its lender attempt to sell the property to recover as much money as possible, the property seems more attractive without the Trump name attached, and efforts are under way to have it removed.
It's commonplace for brands to be named after people. Brand names such as Kellogg's, Disney and Harley-Davidson reflect the founders and heritage of their respective companies. Other brands point to licensing arrangements, where a fee or royalty is paid for use of a name, often to provide a newly introduced product or service with an immediate and proven brand identity.
Celebrities are frequently used for brand licensing purposes, with newly offered fragrances, fashion and household lines serving as common examples. Indeed, Success By Trump and Empire By Trump exemplify branded fragrances.
The aim of licensing is to enhance the overall value of a brand based on elements such as perceived brand quality, brand associations and brand loyalty.
When the Trump Hotel opened in Toronto in 2012, well before the current presidential campaign, the use of celebrity brand licensing appeared strategically advantageous, including the owners' pursuit of investors. As Mr. Trump's website boastfully self-proclaims, his brand is synonymous with success, excellence, prestige and luxury. The billionaire's business success is largely linked with real estate.
Although Mr. Trump has become the presumptive nominee of the Republican Party, the common brand associations of his name are increasingly contested. Over the course of roughly one year, since he formally announced his candidacy last June, the presidential campaign has progressively come to associate his brand with xenophobia, bigotry, fascism and absurdity.
While campaigning, Mr. Trump has referred to Mexican immigrants as bringing drugs and crime and dubbing them rapists. He has been adamant that, as president, he would build a wall where the United States borders Mexico, while insisting that Mexico pay for its construction.
The liabilities of the Trump name are mounting. During the past year, sharp declines in bookings have been observed at Trump hotels more broadly. The owners of Toronto's Trump Tower are undoubtedly reconsidering the merits of their celebrity brand-licensing deal.
Mr. Trump resides in the aura of big business, power, success and glitz that Bay Street property projects possess or want to possess. The Trump corporate website makes it easy to infer that he owns the hotel or building bearing his name, but the licensing of the Trump name reflects that Mr. Trump is not the primary interest in the project. Now the project is virtually bankrupt and the owners want to drop their association with Mr. Trump.
On Last Week Tonight, John Oliver famously suggested replacing Trump with Drumpf – the original family name – as a way of separating the man from the luxury brand. Now, a project that bears his name appears to be moving toward a similar uncoupling. None of this is a great look for a Republican presidential nominee.