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The Donald's Trump Card: Himself

Stocks in this article: VNO

NEW YORK (TheStreet) -- In his book Predicting Market Success, Robert Passikoff discusses the recent phenomenon of the human brand: a person who is the face, embodiment and often the name of a company. Passilkoff writes, "Whether these people are brands themselves, such as Martha Stewart or Donald Trump, or are spokespeople for brands, their humanity brings a certain twist to the branding process." That can be an asset, he explains. "These days it's tougher than ever for marketers to distinguish their brands from the competition and engage with consumers."

Human brands are especially hard to gauge or price. Passikoff notes, "At one end of the brand continuum, we have the commodity, what we all know as the stuff that provides some reasonable level of primacy of product or service. At the other end, we have the human brand, the occasional exceptional person who really is the brand: Wolfgang Puck, Colonel Sanders, Martha Stewart, Paul Newman, or Donald Trump."

Sometimes brands can become exposed to certain risks that could damage or even crush the image of the company or individual behind the brand. Think Lance Armstrong -- a brand almost completely wiped out due to his lying about his doping during his Tour de France victories. Or perhaps Tiger Woods, a brand that seems to be surviving after a tarnished personal history of unfaithfulness. Unlike Armstrong, Woods didn't rely on enhancement drugs to win and instead his biggest strength remains consistent and raw talent.

Donald Trump, another well-known human brand, has also had his share of baggage, including multiple divorces, repeated corporate bankruptcies and frequent political (even presidential) aspirations.

The latest drama for Trump is a lawsuit in which the New York attorney general is charging Trump with committing a $40 million fraud. The suit alleges that Trump misled 5,000 students at a "Trump University," charging them up to $35,000 for worthless real estate instruction. (Trump blew off the lawsuit as a "frivolous attack" driven by the attorney general's personal issues; Trump's lawyers have filed a motion to dismiss.)

In recent years, many for-profit colleges have fallen afoul of the law. But due to Trump's public notoriety, the lawsuit is getting a lot of press coverage.

Yet Trump seems not to have lost any sleep due to the lawsuit, and has been forging ahead in New York and abroad. A quick walk around 40 Wall Street shows how Trump's business is a success. The 70-story 1.3 million square foot office tower that Trump acquired in 1995 for a reported $1 million is now substantially leased and according to him could fetch more than $600 million in today's red-hot New York City office market.

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