Angelo Carusone: Why Macy’s Must Stop Selling Donald Trump’s Brand
Here I was, safety scissors in hand, standing in front of Macy’s main entrance on 34th Street. Scaffolding and decorations heralded the Thanksgiving Day Parade, which would begin in less than 48 hours. But, this gathering wasn’t about claiming a superb location alongside the parade route; this was about Macy’s business partnership with Donald Trump.
This all began on Oct. 24. Trump had just hijacked two media cycles with his latest birther stunt, an offer to give $5 million to charity if the president of the United States complied with his demand for college transcripts. Although it seemed more like an attempt to use charity as a weapon and a promise to withhold money from charity if Trump didn’t get his way.
The stunt had focused my attention; and while poking around I came upon an August 2012 signed letter from Macy’s CEO Terry Lundgren addressed to Donald Trump. Just below Lundgren’s signature, a postscript proclaimed: "Don’t give up the real estate business yet but we are developing a meaningful fashion business with your brand!"
That line gave me pause and got me thinking about Trump’s “brand.”
Trump’s brand is consequence-free bullying and chicanery; mean-spirited antics designed to ride a media cycle so he can promote himself or his Macy’s product line at the expense of others. It’s not the kind of thing that you build a fashion business on top of, and it certainly isn’t consistent with my experience as a longtime Macy’s customer. And here was the CEO of Macy’s promising to further develop that brand. I felt compelled to take action. So I started a petition at SignOn.org, which is a free-to-use online organizing platform.
Then the election results came in. Trump took to Twitter and repeatedly called for the overthrow of the American government. His demands for revolt coincided with the launch of Macy’s big Christmas advertising campaign. Trump is featured in the ads playing a skeptic on Kris Kringle’s identity. Macy’s decision to portray Trump in this role raised some eyebrows given that he spent years promoting the racially charged birther conspiracy. The result was that Macy’s relationship with Trump became front and center, and the petition took off.
The petition took off because of the incompatibility between Macy’s brand and Trump’s brand of bigoted bullying.
Macy’s doesn’t simply provide a shelf for Trump to sell his clothes; the company is involved in developing Trump’s brand. That’s why Macy’s rolls out new additions to the Trump line with great fanfare, or promotes Trump in expensive advertising campaigns, like their Christmas one, and why Trump uses plenty of the free media attention he generates to promote Macy’s.
Macy’s spends a lot of money to actively participate in key holidays. Many people’s relationship with Macy’s begins before they are even customers. They might have gone there as a child to get their picture taken with Santa, marveled at Macy’s Fourth of the July fireworks, or enjoyed the parade well before they were old enough to even think about shopping. Macy’s recognizes that. It’s why their catchphrase is the “magic of Macy’s.”
But, if Macy’s wants to keep that magic, the company needs to consider what Trump’s brand has become, and reconsider whether it’s reflective of the magic of Macy’s.
If I went into Macy’s and said some of the things that Trump has said, security almost certainly would escort me out. This is a pretty good indication that the Trump brand of bigoted bullying and the Macy’s brand are incompatible. Some additional incompatibilities: Trump denounces products that are made in China as low in quality, but some of his Macy’s products are made in China. Macy’s expresses a deep commitment to addressing climate change. Donald Trump says that “global warming is a conspiracy created by the Chinese.”
Macy’s inadequate response has left people even more disappointed. First, Macy’s defended Trump and let him do all the talking. He went on the attack. Then Macy’s claimed its spokespeople were not necessarily affiliated with Macy’s, desperate to avoid even mentioning the Trump name.
If there is nothing wrong with Trump’s brand, then why can’t Macy’s even say his name these days?
And that brought me outside Macy’s Herald Square on Nov. 20 at 12:30 p.m. But, I wasn’t alone. More than 660,000 people had joined with me on SignOn.org to urge Macy’s to dump Trump, and more than 50 people had joined me outside Macy’s.
I delivered the signed petition. Then I joined a group of Macy’s cardholders as they cut their Macy’s cards—an action that thousands of others will be doing across the country.
Cutting the cards was the clearest way to illustrate to Macy’s that their response actually made things worse, and to demonstrate that if Macy’s won’t dump Trump, people will dump Macy’s.