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Is Donald Trump liable for ‘brand malpractice’?

Screen Shot 2016-01-20 at 9.57.50 AMA recent piece from CNBC spoke about the damage that Donald Trump is doing to his business and his brand because of his polarizing rhetoric. I couldn’t agree more. In fact, I would like to take the discussion a step further. Could he be held liable for the many millions of dollars lost by those that have invested in apartments, golf club memberships, clothing licenses, and real estate partnerships? I believe a case could be made that his statements, regardless of his rights under the First Amendment, have served to undermine the value of the TRUMP brand and thereby reduced the value of the investment in everything associated with it. If my hypothesis is valid, it could represent the first class action suit brought for ‘brand malpractice.’ And it certainly highlights the inherent risk in investing in a brand that is inextricably tied to a person.

When Tiger Woods went through his transgressions, companies like Gillette, Buick and Accenture ran for the hills. But he also disenfranchised millions of fans by his behavior, many of whom bought clubs, hats and shirts because of what he represented. Maybe they should have been able to ask for their money back.

Perhaps a more glaring example of ‘brand malpractice’ is Lance Armstrong. I still have a LIVESTRONG T-shirt, but every time I wear it to the gym I have second thoughts. Like me,     many millions of people contributed financially and were invested emotionally in what they thought he represented, only to be completed blindsided by his dishonesty. Should he be liable for damages?

People don’t just buy brands, they ‘buy into’ brands. And when the brand is built around a person, shouldn’t there be an implicit contract that they not say or do anything that undermines the brand’s value? I am not a lawyer, but I believe it is worth considering.

Look, I admit it: the Trump brand has never resonated with me. However, I respect his achievements and his innate skill as a marketer, and one of the most successful brand builders of all time. That is why I find his actions to be so reckless. Recently he said, “If I become President, I couldn’t care less about my company – it’s peanuts.”

Clearly his priorities have shifted, which may be fine for him, but what about everyone who invested millions of dollars for an apartment because of the gold TRUMP letters on the side of     the building?

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