The owner of the newly opened Trump Auto Sales in Anniston is hoping for huge sales, but experts on President Donald Trump and on the law caution against using the Trump name without permission.
Shon Dukes, owner of the used car lot on South Quintard Avenue, said Wednesday that sales have been good since the Tuesday grand opening.
Asked if he believes naming his business after President Donald Trump will help his sales, Dukes said “I think so. It’s been really good. We’ve generated a tremendous amount of traffic here.”
Dukes said he’s not worried that naming his business after Trump will cause him any legal trouble, however. He said that no one has legal right to use the name “Trump Auto Sales — Make Car Buying Great Again” except himself.
Dukes, who also owns Riteway Auto Sales in Munford, reserved the name “Trump Auto Sales” with the Alabama Secretary of State in August, according to online records.
In addition to the Trump name, the car lot’s sign, its website at Trumpautosales.com and its Facebook page all show graphics similar to those used by Trump’s campaign. The business’ Facebook page profile photo is of Trump himself.
Brent Cunningham, marketing professor at Jacksonville State University, said that while he couldn't speak for Dukes, when businesses use a recognized name in marketing it’s known as “positive rub-off,” which means a company wants the positive aspects of an established brand to rub off on their products.
“They’re looking for name recognition. They don't want to spend advertising dollars to create a new brand,” Cunningham said. The tactic is similar to using celebrities to endorse products, or making a product look similar to another successful, established brand, he said.
“The danger of that is negative rub-off,” Cunningham said, referring to the possibility that the brand being borrowed might not appeal to every consumer.
Cunningham said it is “highly unusual” to tie one’s company brand to a politician, however.
“Because they’re liable to do something that might irritate half the population. You’re going to alienate part of the market,” Cunningham said.
But perhaps Dukes isn’t really taking much of a risk by choosing to saddle his car lot with the Trump brand, Cunningham said, as Trump did well with Alabama voters in the presidential election. Trump won 62 percent of the vote in Alabama.
Cunningham said the use of the Trump name, and the motto similar to Trump’s “Make America Great Again” campaign slogan, could pose a legal risk for Dukes, however.
“The legality would be, does it cause confusion among the public?” Cunningham said. If so, the president could perhaps demand through the courts that Dukes stop using his name, he said.
Alan Durham is a professor and vice dean of the University of Alabama’s law school. He said that without knowing a lot more, he couldn’t say much about the Anniston case. But generally, he said, whether a business name violates the trademarks of another business would depend on whether there is a likelihood of confusion.
“That depends on a number of factors, including the similarity of the businesses, the way the mark is displayed, and the intentions behind it all,” Durham wrote in an email to The Star.
Durham said that if the Anniston car dealer is exploiting Trump’s celebrity as an individual, then something called “right of publicity” comes into play. The term refers to a person’s right to control the commercial use of his or her likeness.
Durham said it complicates things that Trump is a political figure and a potential subject for parody.
In 2010 Trump sued the inventor of an iPhone app called iTrump that teaches users how to play the trumpet. The court battle went on for six years, but Trump lost, according to news accounts. In 1988 Trump sued another Trump family living in Israel who owned a real estate company and used the Trump name, but a judge ruled in favor of the less-famous Trumps.
Trump has registered his name with the U.S. Patent and Trademark office, according to the agency’s records online.
Trump uses his name, and variations of it, in numerous businesses that he either owns or has partial ownership in, from resorts and golf courses to beauty pageants.
But Trump also makes money leasing his name for other companies to use. According to a January article in The Washington Post Trump sold licenses for the use of his last name to at least 50 different companies, which has made him $59 million.
Dukes isn’t the only person in Alabama who has tied his business to Trump’s name. According to the Alabama Secretary of State website “Trumptrashbags” incorporated in Alabama in February, and Trump Inc. registered with the state as a corporation in 1998.
The Montgomery-based Trump Inc. is listed in state records as a fencing and decking construction company. Attempts to reach the owner of that firm were unsuccessful Wednesday.
Several other companies once registered in Alabama that use the Trump name have either dissolved or been revoked. Some are connected to the President’s businesses in New York, as well.
Investigative reporter and author David Cay Johnston wrote the biography “The Making of Donald Trump.” Johnston said the New York real estate developer has always been “very aggressive about trying to prevent the use of his name by anyone else in any line of business.”
“If your last name is not Trump you should expect his lawyers will move against you. Trump Marks — as in trademark or service Mark — is a major source of Donald Trump's income,” Johnston wrote in an email to The Star.