For most people a police mug shot would be a badge of dishonour they would do anything to erase. For Donald Trump it’s a branding opportunity and political weapon.

The scowling, vengeful stare captured at a Georgia jail on Thursday after Mr Trump was booked on racketeering and conspiracy charges has quickly become his campaign symbol.

T-shirts, mugs, stickers and beverage coolers bearing the first mug shot of a serving or former US president were put out by his team within hours of the photo’s release.

The image of the 77-year-old – head tilted slightly down, his eyes glowering into the camera – is accompanied on the official merchandise by the words “Never Surrender” in upper case letters.

Notably absent from the merchandise is the local sheriff’s badge watermark that appeared in the image released by authorities.

While such a photo would surely sink any other political candidate, for Mr Trump it plays into his narrative of a defiant, heroic victim.

“This mugshot will forever go down in history as a symbol of America’s defiance of tyranny,” screamed a fundraising email sent out by Trump 2024, asking supporters to pledge $47 in return for a T-shirt with the image.

New York-based marketing guru Daniel Binns said the photo could be a “hugely powerful” branding tool for Trump.

“As a marketer, this is his genius, that he can reclaim whatever is said, or whatever is accused, or whatever imagery is created, and turn it into something which stands for the story he wants to tell,” the CEO of marketing consultancy Interbrand North America told AFP.

Mr Binns even likened it to the “Hope” poster from Barack Obama’s 2008 successful presidential campaign.

“It couldn’t be more different in terms of what it stands for, but that was an equally iconic piece of imagery,” he said.

The picture of Mr Trump dressed in his trademark dark blue suit, white shirt and red tie against a gray backdrop is now arguably the most famous mug shot ever taken, joining a rogues’ gallery that includes OJ Simpson and Tiger Woods.

Mr Trump’s embrace of the image was clear when he quickly used it to post his first message in more than two and a half years on X, the social media site formerly known as Twitter.

He included the “never surrender” slogan and added “election interference” – his common refrain that the four criminal cases against him are a Democratic plot to derail his bid to regain the White House in next year’s election.

Some of his most prominent backers are also weaponising the image as the Republican party seeks to take back the presidency from Joe Biden.

“Not all heroes wear capes,” Congresswoman Lauren Boebert wrote on X, alongside the mugshot.

Far-right Representative Marjorie Taylor Greene also posted the picture, adding the words: “This is the photo that will win the 2024 Presidential election.” But Trump’s Democratic opponents sought to use it for their own ends. “No one is above the law,” the House Judiciary Committee wrote on X alongside the image.

Memes mocking Mr Trump also circulated online, with some social media users likening Trump’s stare to the crazed look of the protagonist in Stanley Kubrick’s 1971 dystopian movie “A Clockwork Orange.” Trump rose from real estate billionaire to reality TV star to president off marketing of his name.

From his hometown of New York to cities in The Gulf and Asia, “Trump” has appeared on everything from hotels and luxury residential towers to golf courses and ice rinks.

“So much of the imaginary has been of success, and achievement, everything in gold. This is very different,” noted Mr Binns.

The Georgia trial on charges that he tried to overturn the 2020 election is one of four criminal trials Mr Trump is due to face next year.

Whatever their outcome, the mug shot will be around forever. Could that hurt the Trump business brand in the long term?

“The brand does not want to be about anger and defiance. That is sort of his political brand and it will work for him in the short term but the Trump brand overall is not about that,” said Mr Binns.

– With AFP

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