She May Be ‘Complicit,’ But Ivanka Trump’s Brand Stays Strong
It was only a matter of time before Ivanka Trump was lampooned on Saturday Night Live for being the glossy face of her father’s prejudice, for being—as the Scarlett Johansson-led sketch had it—“complicit” in his much-criticized presidential actions.
As the confused faces of SNL’s female cast revealed, Ivanka is also supposedly an unofficial ambassador for women in the Trump administration, a vague advocacy role that—far as many can surmise—consists primarily of high-profile meetings-turned-marketing opportunities for her Instagram and Twitter feeds.
But while fans of the show thought Saturday night’s spoof advertisement for Ivanka’s new fragrance, “Complicit,” brilliantly skewered the first daughter’s superficial feminism, the skit may turn out to be a boon for Ivanka’s surprisingly resilient brand.
“Going after Trump is one thing, but by taking that next step and going after Ivanka, SNL might elicit a backlash of sympathy for her for any number of reasons,” said Carol Spieckerman, a branding and retail consultant. “The show has an agenda on some level, and that’s when a lot of people’s heckles get up. They might see it as a form of bullying.”
However unlikely a prospect bullying a Trump may sound, the SNL spoof marked the end to a week of mostly positive events for Ivanka.
Despite the designer Zac Posen revealing to The Daily Beast that he would no longer dress her or Melania Trump, Ivanka celebrated International Women’s Day with the UN Foundation campaign Girl Up, of which she became a founding partner in 2010.
She also had a luncheon with female Republican lawmakers at the White House, with whom she reportedly discussed child care and family leave policies.
Then there was the news that her eponymous fashion brand saw a surge in sales in February—“some of the best performing weeks in the brand’s history,” according to Abigail Klem, who took over for Ivanka as president of the company ahead of President Trump’s swearing in.
Klem’s remarks were backed up by figures from Lyst, an e-commerce site that tracks retailer purchasing data and found that the Ivanka Trump brand’s sales had jumped 346 percent from January to February. Indeed, the figures indicated a surprising turn of events since the beginning of the month, when Nordstrom—citing poor sales—dropped Ivanka’s fashion line, and items from her fine jewelry collection suddenly disappeared from Neiman Marcus’s website. More items returned to the site as recently as this week, though the Ivanka Trump brand confirmed on Monday that it is discontinuing its fine jewelry line. The company told the New York Times that the decision stems from a renewed focus on "solution-oriented products at accessible price points.”
Ivanka’s fashion and jewelry lines had been targeted by an anti-Trump boycott, #GrabYourWallet, since October—and it seemed the boycott was paying off when retailers suddenly distanced themselves from the Ivanka Trump brand.
But celebrations of the brand’s apparent demise were premature. Despite being roasted by the liberal cast of SNL and criticized by progressives for pushing a family leave policy that will primarily benefit women who earn upward of $100,000 a year, Ivanka’s female-focused fashion brand is still thriving.
All of this is baffling to Ivanka’s critics. They see her as a feminist fraud and cynical opportunist who is prettifying her father’s ugly politics. But to the 63 million people who voted to elect President Trump, the real Ivanka is the embodiment of her social media persona: an engaged, loving mother and dedicated advocate for improving child care and women’s economic empowerment.
“There are likely a lot of Trump supporters who have bought her products in reaction to the boycott,” said Neil Saunders, retail analyst at Conlumino USA. While the Ivanka Trump brand’s customer base has become more politically polarized, the brand has likely benefited from the publicity-generating boycott more than it has suffered.
“That publicity has probably attracted a lot of consumers to the brand who aren’t politically motivated shoppers,” said Saunders. “Suddenly you have people who never heard of the Ivanka Trump brand looking it up online and buying it.”
Robert Passikoff, the founder and president of Brand Keys, a brand research and consulting company, said that it’s likely not a coincidence that Ivanka Trump’s fashion line sales spiked following Kellyanne Conway’s orders that Americans “go buy Ivanka Trump” in a Fox interview, after Nordstrom dropped the label. As we saw with Trump’s campaign, even negative news can positively impact brand equity.
“Here you have a little known brand suddenly getting tons of visibility, which is likely contributing to the increase in sales,” said Passikoff. While political ethicists called on the Trump administration to fire Conway, most mainstream consumers aren’t sophisticated enough to care about this stuff. They see Ivanka Trump’s name splashed across headlines next to a photo of the beautiful first daughter and are sold.
“Brand awareness is traditionally the longest route to profitability, but the internet has created a kind of brand equality,” said Passikoff. “So if you can create some level of engagement—good or bad—you will attract consumers.”
Ivanka’s response to the conflicts surrounding her father’s administration has been deafening silence. So far, that strategy is working: She is, as ever, presenting a carefully curated view of her role as an inoffensive—if insufficient—advocate for women under her father’s administration. It may not be an honest image, but it’s still plenty appealing to millions of Americans.
“She’s very good at striking a delicate balance between seeming neutral without seeming aloof,” said Spieckerman. Indeed, a woman who has an opinion but doesn’t make too much noise about it is particularly appealing to conservatives. The fact that many progressives despise Ivanka may benefit the brand.
“There’s arguably more to be gained from being a polarizing figure than being a brand with mass appeal, because you can do a lot of great business in many different forms through people who are passionate and fervent about supporting you,” said Spieckerman. “If people aren’t passionate about a brand, there are too many other things vying for their attention. Having haters means you’ll also have those who love you rushing to your defense.”
Spieckerman predicts that Ivanka’s brand may suffer setbacks during her father’s presidency, but will be resilient in the long term. It might even do better without the fashion component.
“She can take the brand in any number of directions and make it successful. Especially post-administration, she can go back and present herself as someone who had ideas that were different at times from her father, but didn’t always prevail—someone for whom family comes first, and who tried to influence decisions and was successful sometimes and other times not. I think she’s uniquely suited to striking that balance and not getting dinged by a lot of peripheral action.”