ANALYSIS-Trump's 'golden' image on trial after bankruptcy

By Helen Chernikoff and Ilaina Jonas

July 15, 2010 Updated Feb 17, 2009 at 7:01 PM CDT

NEW YORK (Reuters) - Trump Entertainment Resorts
Inc's bankruptcy filing is only the latest
disappointment to attach itself to the Trump name, once a
byword for luxury and high living.

Donald Trump, the real estate mogul who has splashed his
name on everything from skyscrapers to neckties to bottled
water, has suffered a string of recent reversals that threaten
to dilute his cachet, say branding experts. His name, which he
often licenses to real estate projects in which he has no
direct control, has earned him millions.

"His brand is associated with success and making money. And
every time the word bankruptcy appears next to Trump, that's
not good," said Allen Adamson, managing director of Landor, a
brand consultancy. "He can take a few chinks in the armor, but
I think he's probably at the limit."

Famous for shouting "You're fired!" at the contestants who
aspired to his tycoon status and lavish lifestyle on "The
Apprentice," his long-running reality TV series, Trump would
never fire himself. But image watchers will be looking for
signs he may have lost some of his luster, as the latest season
of his show premieres March 1.

Deutsche Bank Trust Co Americas, a unit of Deutsche Bank AG
, is suing Trump for $40 million, the personal
guarantee he pledged as security on a $640 million construction
loan for the Trump International Hotel & Tower, according to
lawsuits filed in New York Supreme Court in Queens.

He defaulted in November, arguing he should not have to pay
over $330 million he owes because the world economic crisis
constitutes a "Force Majeure" -- equating it with war or an act
of God.

He also seeks $3 billion in damages, according to court
documents.

Becoming "president" of the development was the prize
awarded to Bill Rancic, The Apprentice's first winner.

In Dubai, Nakheel, the property arm of Dubai Holdings, has
postponed work on Trump International Tower and Hotel.

Similarly, Florida developers decided not to proceed with a
Trump-branded project even after they paid $2.84 million plus
half the net sales to put his name on it, according to court
documents filed in U.S. District Court in Tampa.

Another risk Trump runs is the clash between his reputation
for luxury and living large and the tough economic times, which
calls for understatement, Adamson said.

BRAND BUILDING

Trump's merchandise, as advertised on his website, is far
from understated.

"Dress for success," reads the text touting his men's
suits. "Made from luxurious fabrics with elegant details
including silk lining and gold piping on the interior, the
collection exudes confidence and high-end style."

That tone sounds a false note today, Adamson said, because
the trumpeting of big spending is out of fashion.

"That whole lifestyle is under scrutiny now," he said.
"Trump has never stood for less is more. That's the bigger
challenge to the Trump brand."

On the other hand, failure might not tarnish Trump's image
as much as it might seem, said Scott Davis, a partner at
Prophet, a branding firm.

Trump has some wiggle room because his story exalts the
comeback, not just uninterrupted success. Davis said.

Trump Entertainment's Chapter 11 filing, for example, marks
the third plunge into bankruptcy for the company.

"He's the guy who bounces back," Davis said. "He epitomizes
a part of the American dream that people latch onto. He's
somebody that has come through contentious times and he ends up
back on top."

So far, at least some of Trump's associates and license
holders are standing by him, opting to try to distance the man
from the bankrupt gambling business that bears his name.

"NBC is not going to comment on Trump's personal business,"
said Amanda Ruisi, the show's NBC spokeswoman.

Drinks America, which markets Trump-brand vodka, pointed
out that Trump Entertainment represents little of Trump's net
worth.

But the next installment of The Apprentice will present a
challenge, given the contrast between his display of business
acumen and the ongoing bankruptcy, Davis said.

Those who do watch might be seeking a pleasure that evokes
an easier yesteryear, Adamson said. "Either they're going to
watch it for a nostalgic look back, or as an escape from the
misery of watching CNBC."
(Editing by Patrick Fitzgibbons and Andre Grenon)

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