But leading Republican presidential contender Donald Trump does that on a much more literal basis. In a recent press conference after his big wins in Michigan and Mississippi, he actually stood next to a table festooned with red meat -- and Trump wine, vodka, and water -- to show reporters and admirers assembled in the room in Jupiter, Fla., that he makes products that sell. Take that, Mitt Romney!
It was obvious product placement and bottom-of-the-barrel hucksterism, but almost biblical, too, in suggesting that Trump's some sort of magician, in the turning-water-into-wine sense.
Still, the lavish display presented another of those surreal Trumpian moments. Very quickly post-conference, the press determined that with the exception of Trump water, (circulated at Trump properties) none of the other products is still sold, or even his.
For instance, this was not a Trump steak, but rather a Bush Bros product. (Although said Brothers, no relation to the politicians, do a fair amount of business with the Trump Organization.)
Indeed, the beef hasn’t been sold under the Trump label since 2009, when it was sold via QVC and The Sharper Image, and later, like the vodka and Trump magazine, was discontinued.
The online reviews for the meat were decidedly mixed, like this one: "Nothing but grease, and shrinkage is astonishing! Bought both steaks and burgers, would not purchase again. No redeeming qualities."
Perhaps Trump thought the journalists present were not the media geniuses he is. And in many cases, he’d be right. In every category involving image and media manipulation, Trump has “outwitted, outlasted, and outplayed” the competition -- to borrow a phrase from “Survivor,” another show in the reality genre that he has also conquered.
In some quarters, this confounding, all-engulfing Trumpian savvy is being blamed for what is now known as the “great crack-up” of the Republican Party.
All those big, powerful rich guys who had such plans for “low-energy” Jeb!
Even more perplexing is how a coddled rich kid like the Donald from Queens, who avoided the military due to bone spurs in his feet (private military boarding school doesn’t count) is now embraced as the macho, authoritarian savior of the U.S. after seven years of weak, “no-drama” Obama.
Still crazier: A thin-skinned guy who became a billionaire by squeezing his small-time vendors and routinely playing the banks, bankruptcy courts and the press like violins, is now the chosen voice of the alienated working class.
How? One simple answer is that, much as he did with real estate, publishing and his TV show, he saw an opening and exploited it. Like Steve Jobs, he somehow recognized that every tiny detail of the brand has to communicate as part of the cohesive whole.
He started with a book, “The Art of the Deal,” and then used every press opportunity associated with the book to establish himself as a self-made rich guy and “winner.” He developed this personality and recognizable voice to such an extent that decades later, Trump is the only political candidate around now with an unerring mastery of Twitter.
The other campaigns have put perhaps hundreds of junior staffers on social media, so that the message comes out as committee-approved — and no longer human. (This has been known to happen with non-hominid brands, like packaged goods, too.) Of course, Trump doesn’t rely on consultants and advisers in the traditional sense ever, and that all builds up his challenger, anti-establishment brand cred.
And although he might be endowed with “average-sized" hands, he has a giant sense of brand-building. No other rich developer routinely splayed his moniker in giant gold letters on his buildings, helicopters, or private planes the way he did. (It just seemed un-American in those days!)
But the extreme non-humility worked hugely to his advantage on “The Apprentice," when he could land on a rooftop and have his acolytes treat him as Superman. (Look, up in the sky, it’s Mr. Trump!)
The orchestration of the boardroom was like The Last Supper, with the golden one sitting across from his acolytes in the middle of the giant polished table, advisers on each side.
When not exuding Biblical symbolism, “The Apprentice” was the “upscale” reality show that wrote the book on product placement and embedded sponsorships. It was so successful because of a specific NBC strategy: the audience numbers had dropped precipitously from the first season, but it turned out to be a sufficient enough “earner” (as Tony Soprano liked to put it) from product placement alone.
Study it carefully enough, and you will also see that embedded in "The Apprentice" was much of the Don’s profile now as a candidate.
According to Jennifer Pozner, author of “Reality Bites Back: The Troubling Truth About Guilty Pleasure TV,” the show had built-in gender and racial biases from the start. It was responsible for the “angry black woman” meme of Omarosa, which spread to other shows, like “The Real Housewives of Atlanta.”
In addition, Trump exhibited a “very sketchy definition of business ethics," says Pozner. "The way that contestants could win challenges rested only on the question of who raised the most money, not how they raised it. Did they beg, borrow, steal, cheat, or screw someone to do it?”
You’ll recall that part of Trump’s original contretemps with Fox News anchor Megyn Kelly was about the suggestive way he addressed one of the women on the show. “Not all of the women used their sexuality to succeed,” Pozner says. “The ones who didn’t were left on the cutting-room floor. They figured out how to get screen time or get fired.”
Pozner notes that if Trump himself “behaved in the actual workplace like the way he behaved on his show, he would be sued over and over for gender and libel discrimination.”
Obviously, Trump learned a lot from his years on “The Apprentice." He knows how to get screen time and not end up on the cutting-room floor.
His problem now, however, is the ugliness and bullying he is stoking in his rallies. Even though he recently asked the crowd to raise their right hands if they intended to vote for him, it’s not quite Hitlerian. That analogy is inapt, because it reduces the exterminations of the Holocaust to the scripted antics of a WWE event.
But if nothing changes in the violent, scary way the security detail is treating people of color and Muslims who attend his rallies, we might actually see a Trump crack-up.
After all, "Running the country is not a crazy television show. It's supposed to be serious. It's our country, it's our lives." Truer words were never said. Thank you, Jerry Springer.
Trump seems tired. Perhaps it’s dawning on him that in aiming to lead the country and the world, he’s bitten off more than he can chew. After all, every brand has its limits.