Across the country, Americans disturbed by Trump’s rhetoric are boycotting companies that have business ties to him and his family.
A number of boycott campaigns, most notably #GrabYourWallet and The Donald J. Trump Resistance (DJTR), have popped up in the last month. As of Trump’s inaugural weekend, the #GrabYourWallet campaign has 3.5 million impressions on Twitter (including retweets and likes) and The DJTR has over 44,000 likes on Facebook.
The majority of the targeted retailers, including Nordstrom and Sears, are continuing to sell clothing and home furnishings by Ivanka Trump and the president.
This is no surprise to Robert Passikoff, the founder of Brand Keys, a marketing research firm that has studied Trump’s brand power for the past 25 years.
“The boycott is an ideological reaction,” he tells Business Insider. “Brands don’t tend to do well when they involve themselves with ideologies.”
Although Passikoff says there’s no historical model to compare the Trump boycotts to (i.e. people not buying products connected to a brand that now is connected to the US presidency), we can look to Trump’s brand power over the past few years for some answers.
Brand Keys continually surveys consumers nationwide about Trump, with each sample around 1,800 people. To gather its data for its Trump surveys, the firm asks people how much they think particular products are worth (both with and without Trump’s name).
Though Brand Keys normally conducts client-funded research, these surveys are part of an ongoing internal study. Passikoff says the firm did not track the political affiliation of its survey respondents until Trump declared his candidacy, but that there have been equal numbers of participants who identify as Republicans, Democrats, and Independents since he entered the running. The following percentages — which span more than two decades — are therefore not completely non-partisan, but nonetheless offer insight about Trump’s brand.
Before Trump declared his candidacy, the overall added value for Trump’s brand was 25%. This means if an apartment complex normally sold at $1,000 per square foot, it could sell for $1,250 per square foot with Trump’s name on it. A-list celebrities like Derek Jeter typically have an added brand value of about 15%, Passikoff says.
After Trump entered the race, his brand power decreased 20% for products like suits, ties, and jewellery, but increased for branded items geared toward wealthier Americans, like country clubs and luxury condos. When The Washington Post leaked audio of Trump making lewd comments about women in October 2016, that percentage plunged to 8%.
But following the election, Trump’s brand power increased 35% across every category.
“His name has more power now than ever,” says Passikoff, who
predicts the boycotts will do minimal damage to retailers’ bottom lines and long-term reputations. He says that might not be the case for retailers that appeal to millennial voters — the majority of which didn’t vote for Trump.
Only seven retailers have stopped doing business with the Trump family in the recent past. Macy’s dropped Donald Trump menswear in 2015 after he said many Mexicans are rapists or criminals (but the company has kept Ivanka Trump products). On November 12, Shoes.com announced on Twitter that it was removing Ivanka Trump shoes from its inventory.
On January 18, Kawasaki USA spokesperson Kevin Allen told The New York Times that the company will drop its sponsorship of “The New Celebrity Apprentice,” unless Trump cut ties with the show. Trump no longer appears on-screen on “Celebrity Apprentice,” but he still serves as executive producer and generates income from the program.
Some retailers that felt pressure from the boycotts have confirmed they will continue to carry Trump products or don’t regret their decision to support Trump.
In an email sent to Nordstrom employees on November 21, co-President Pete Nordstrom wrote, “Every single brand we offer is evaluated on their results — if people don’t buy it, we won’t sell it.” And since customers keep buying Ivanka Trump merchandise, it’s not worth it for the company to drop her line, Fortune reported.
L.L. Bean might be the most recent retailer to end up the Grab Your Wallet list, after the public learned that Linda Bean, granddaughter of the company’s founder, made a $66,862 donation to a pro-Trump PAC called Making America Great Again LLC. The donation was considered illegal, because individuals supporting one candidate are limited to $5,000, the AP reported.
L.L. Bean Executive Chairman Shawn Gorman responded on January 8, two days after the company was added to the Grab Your Wallet boycott.
“We are deeply troubled by the portrayal of L.L. Bean as a supporter of any political agenda … We respectfully request that Grab Your Wallet reverse its position,” Gorman wrote on Facebook.
Shannon Coulter, a brand and digital strategist who started the #GrabYourWallet hashtag in October 2016, confirms to Business Insider that she will not remove L.L. Bean from the boycott list.
“At a brand level, this isn’t complicated,” Coulter says. “If your board members give a lot of money to a guy who shows open contempt for disabled people, women, and immigrants, a lot of consumers are going to get mad. That’s not ‘unfair’ as L.L. Bean has characterised it. That’s reality.”
After Trump’s win, she and other anti-Trump Twitter users made a Google Doc spreadsheet listing 32 retailers that have business ties to the Trump family — though that number has since grown to 70. The spreadsheet includes information about Trump inventory carried by businesses along with contact information.
Coulter also believes that supporting Trump products will damage retailers’ reputations in the long run. She predict that even loyal L.L. Bean shoppers will look elsewhere, like REI, Patagonia, or Eddie Bauer.
A recent study from Northwestern University, as The New Yorker notes, concludes the same. The researchers found that though major boycotts between 1990 and 2005 didn’t significantly hurt sales, the bad publicity did damage company stock. Over a third of the targeted retailers also changed their procedures after they were protested.
For example, after consumers found out Nike used child labour in the 1990s, the subsequent boycott was a huge blow to the company’s reputation. Nike performed 600 factory audits, and was the first in the industry to publish a complete list of the facilities making its products.
If these businesses choose to remove Trump products, it will prevent damage for their brands, Coulter says. She points to Christian Dior stores, which chose to fire creative director and designer John Galliano in 2011 after he made racist remarks in public.
The Dior brand, worth an estimated $20.2 billion, was able to ride out the controversy because it immediately dropped Galliano after a wave of public criticism.
“Dior didn’t want its brand associated with racism,” Coulter says. “If a company like Nordstrom chooses to continue selling the products of someone [Ivanka Trump] who passionately campaigned for the KKK-endorsed candidate who likes to grab women by the genitals, that’s going to have implications for the Nordstrom brand whether company executives like it or not.”
The DJTR campaign is a similar effort to #GrabYour Wallet. Started by New York Daily News senior justice writer Shaun King, it calls for a boycott of various companies, founders, and CEOs that financially supported the Trump campaign and sell his family’s products.
“We must make our money stand for the values and the people that we believe in. Otherwise, we are funding the very oppression, bigotry, and discrimination that we claim to hate,” The DJTR website reads.
Even though Trump threatened to enact racist, sexist, homophobic, and xenophobic policies on the campaign trail, it will be difficult to tarnish his name. It is latched onto one of the most powerful brands in the world.
Coulter says she and the anti-Trump movement will continue to boycott.
“As for backing down, no,” she says. “No plans to do that at all.”
An earlier version of this story did not detail the political affiliation of Brand Keys’ survey participants. The firm only did so after Trump declared his presidential candidacy.