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Donald Trump, Dan Kennedy, Branding, and Third Party Credibility

Whether you’re doing business online or offline, you’ve undoubtedly heard of Donald Trump. If you’re into direct response marketing, chances are you’ve probably heard of Dan Kennedy too. What do they have in common? Dan Kennedy likes to name drop “Trump” wherever possible to add third party credibility to himself.

If there is a way to refer to Trump in books, newsletters, or even at seminars, Kennedy finds a way to do it. IIRC, that includes having Ivanka Trump and former Apprentice contestants appear at Kennedy events. What Kennedy has cleverly done is associated his name with “Trump” without paying a fortune in licensing fees to do so. This is indirect brand building that implies “Kennedy = Trump.” Trump’s celebrity builds Kennedy’s brand whether or not The Donald wants to help.

Many properties and goods now have the Trump name affixed to them because the owners of such have paid for the right to use the Trump name. In contrast, Dan Kennedy has paid next to nothing.

This may be a good marketing tactic if you can pull it off without getting a cease-and-desist notice from the lawyer of the celebrity or other public figure whose name you are using to promote your business. That’s a big “if.”

However, there is also the risk of tarnishing your brand by associating yourself with the wrong celebrity or public figure. Here are a few related examples.

Right now, Donald Trump is fighting in bankruptcy court trying to retain a 10% stake in the Trump Casinos in Atlantic City. Trump claims that his name on the casinos are worth that amount of equity. However, Carl Icahn and other creditors argue that the “Trump” name is worth little, nothing, or even has a negative value. After all, if “Trump” meant something as a brand, why are the casinos going into bankruptcy repeatedly? It remains to be seen who will win this battle but the point being made by Icahn has some appeal.

Branding something “Trump” doesn’t make it a success. In fact, a Mexican luxury condo development project that licensed the Trump name recently imploded, leading to lawsuits from unhappy people who paid for homes that will never be built. Trump claims that as the licensee he isn’t responsible for the failure…but it is his name/brand associated with the abandoned construction.

Although he may be laughing all of the way to the bank, brand tarnishing is something else that Dan Kennedy should have learned from Donald Trump. When Kennedy sold/licensed many of his ventures to others over the last few years, he gave up at least some control over how his name has been used in those ventures. For example, there have been questionable sales and marketing practices used in Internet sales pages and emails to promote certain “Kennedy” events. Hidden terms, misleading pricing, and other nonsense.

Giving Kennedy the benefit of the doubt, one could assume that the purchasers/licensees of his business ventures did these things without his permission. But it doesn’t matter. It is Dan Kennedy’s name that suffers.

Whether you’re tying yourself to a particular celebrity to elevate your business’ status or thinking about selling your company to someone who will retain the right to use your name, consider the cases of Trump and Kennedy. If you lose your good name, how will you ever recover it?

Mike Young, Esq.

Author Mike Young, Esq.

Mike Young has been practicing business and technology law since 1994 and is an angel investor in startups. He's been an entrepreneur since 1988. To get legal help from Attorney Young, click here now or call 214-546-4247 to schedule a phone consultation.

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