Whether you can buy Donald Trump's steaks, and whether he wins the Republican presidential nomination, one thing is for sure: Trump the Brand is alive and well.
Trump brandished steak, wine and water at his press conference Tuesday night at the Trump National Golf Course in Jupiter, Florida. The press conference took place after Trump won Republican primaries in Michigan and Mississippi. But what got as much attention as Trump's success at the polls was his display of Trump products.
"I think what Trump did last night was absolutely genius for his brands," said Devorah Neiger, who owns Medshop.com, a New York City-based online medical supply company. "It is the dream of every company to get their name in major publications. ... What Trump did last night, in one fell swoop, was get his brands talked about across every single major media outlet without spending a penny."
Justin Hamel, founder of MastaMinds, Inc., a Michigan-based online specialty retailer, agreed. "He is further building his brand recognition, awareness and it's all for free," said Hamel. "Even if Trump loses his presidential bid, he still wins."
Trump ostensibly displayed the items to refute Mitt Romney, the 2012 GOP presidential nominee who last week said of Trump: "A business genius he is not." In his speech, Romney listed a number of Trump-branded products that no longer exist.
The details get a little messy when you try to connect the products Trump showed with what Romney was referring to.
The steaks at the press conference appeared to be from the butcher that supplies the club at the golf course, and not Trump Steaks, a now-defunct brand once sold by The Sharper Image.
The Trump-branded water, sold at Trump's hotels and clubs, was not Trump Ice, his defunct bottled water business.
Not everyone was impressed by Trump's product showcase. Speaking as a marketing strategist, Samuella Becker found herself "bewildered." The products, noted Becker, founder of TigressPR, "either are not available for purchase — steaks no longer offered by Sharper Image," or are "aimed at an internal audience — water and magazines for resort guests." (Trump also showed off a magazine.)
"If his aim was to show his startup business prowess, it didn't succeed," she said.
But Timothy de Waal Malefyt, a professor of brand strategies and marketing at Fordham University in New York, said Trump is "an amazing brandmeister of the 'brand called you.' Trump champions the self-made man theme in America, one who perseveres against all odds, with struggles and trials — failed casinos and failed marriages — but has a dream — emblazoned in his name everywhere — to succeed against all odds. That brand of you is an inspiring message" for "downtrodden" voters.
But don't spend too much time trying to figure out what Trump's strategy is politically.
"You have to stop thinking of this as a presidential nominating contest and start thinking about this as reality TV," said Matt Kerbel, chair of the political science department at Villanova University in Pennsylvania. Trump's rallies and press conferences look like traditional political forums but they're not: "He's always talking about himself."
Gary Frisch, founder of New Jersey-based Swordfish Communications, says Trump gains nothing by pitching products that mostly aren't for sale. "But he is a showman," Frisch said. And since it's not unusual for entrepreneurs to experience "hits and misses," Frisch said there may be a benefit in "highlighting his grand ideas, the same thought process that has inspired soaring, well-appointed towers, lush golf clubs and, yes, a run for the highest office."
Frisch added that he drank a bottle of Trump Ice water once at a golf club. "It tasted," he said, "like every other bottled water I've had."