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Donald Trump, who just last week was celebrated by the fashion industry as one of the most influential fashion icons in the country because of his line of moderately priced men’s suits, has signed a deal with Drinks Americas Holdings licensing his name for the high-end “Trump: The World's Finest Super Premium Vodka.”

The product should start appearing on store shelves in mid-2006.

J. Patrick Kenny, CEO of Drinks Americas, released a statement: “In our view, the Trump name is one of the most recognizable and valuable global trademarks in existence today… Our agreement is to search the world and work to develop the very best super premium vodka, and then to deliver that product to consumers in packaging and style worthy of the Trump trademark.”

And Trump said in a prepared statement: “Trump Super Premium Vodka is a big idea… By the summer of '06, I fully expect the most called for cocktail in America to be the ‘T&T’ or the “Trump and Tonic.”

Big idea though it may be, Trump was caught in a less prepared moment last week on the “Imus in the Morning” program, where he said that he “mixed feelings” about the venture because he does not drink alcohol of any kind – in fact, doesn’t even drink coffee because he does not want to be addicted to caffeine. And he told host Don Imus (himself a recovering alcoholic): “ I know it's like tobacco companies making cigarettes and then advertising 'don't smoke,' which I think is ridiculous…but it's a legal product and if I don't sell it someone else will..."
KC's View:
The guys at Drinks Americas probably reached for the bottle themselves when they heard Trump essentially disavowing the product that they must be investing millions in.

What we don’t understand is why someone who clearly doesn’t think alcohol is good for you would put his name on a bottle of vodka. Could he need the money that badly that he’d be willing to put his brand equity at risk?

We actually expressed a certain amount of grudging admiration for Trump last week when he was recognized by the fashion industry – mostly because he’d managed to personalize his brand equity in a way that most companies cannot or do not.

We’re not sure which is dumber. Putting his name on a product that he never plans to consume and of which he disapproves. Or going out of his way to point out the hypocrisy on a nationally broadcast radio/TV program.

Maybe the Drinks Americas folks will call him up to say, “You’re fired.”

Coincidentally, the problems of celebrity endorsement are made clear this morning by a NY Daily News story detailing the class action lawsuit against Dr. Phil McGraw, who is being sued for making phony claims about diet products that he endorsed. While McGraw has argued that he was just a paid spokesman for the company, emails have come to light suggesting that he was rewriting commercials, adjusting claims, and even admitting that the message had to be carefully crafted since he had “no expertise” in the weight loss area. The products were taken off the market last year in the face of a Federal Trade Commission (FTC) probe into deceptive advertising claims.

(McGraw also apparently said in his emails that he didn’t want to appear at Wal-Mart’s annual meeting because the company carried his books anyway, that he didn’t see the benefit to him, and that Wal-Mart needed him more than he needed Wal-Mart. Which probably is amusing to certain buyers in Bentonville…but that’s another column.)

There’s no law against hypocrisy. But the consuming public ought to be able to see through these kinds of guys for what they really are – charlatans. And these guys should be forced to watch John Huston’s excellent film version of Rudyard Kipling’s “The Man Who Would Be King,” which is all about the romance and repercussions of making false claims.

Then again, they probably wouldn’t get it. Because such stories are poetry and about truth. And these kinds of guys know only the lure of the mighty dollar.