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How Donald Trump spins criticism into marketing gold

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Charles Rex Arbogast/AP/File

(Read caption) Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump smiles for a photographer before he addresses members of the City Club of Chicago, in Chicago, June 29, 2015.

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Want to make your cat look like presidential candidate and real estate tycoon Donald Trump? Or take a whack at a piñata in his image?

Just remember that when you do, you might be helping make The Donald’s marketing dreams come true.

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In the eyes of many Americans, Mr. Trump has built his presidential campaign on toxic rhetoric about Mexico. But those noxious fumes may convert into premium fuel – fuel that is unlikely to put Trump further down to road toward the White House, but that might serve well for further empire building.

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Of late, Trump has accused the Mexican government of sending criminals to the US. The result has been a sharp rise in the memes and other online mockery of Trump.

Trump also got into a Twitter battle with escaped Mexican cartel lord El Chapo, which led to FBI involvement and a bumper crop of invective-slash-publicity for Trump.

Meanwhile, on Instagram a user called “Donald Purrump” has set up a challenge for pet owners to “Trump your Cat” by giving your feline a comb-over.

Trump-bashing isn't limited to the digital sphere. Several makers of custom piñatas are in the news today for their whackable paper mâché likenesses of Trump.

Sound like a whole lot of bad press? Think again says Gerry Moran, founder of MarketingThink.com. The publicity is all good news for Trump the tycoon, he says, and it isn’t hurting Trump the candidate either.

“I do think they’re making The Donald’s day, sort of feeding into him," says Mr. Moran. "I truly think it’s a brand building play. It’s an old adage, no press is bad press."

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He adds,"It’s not about getting people to like him. It’s about generating content.”

As Democratic ad maker J.J. Balaban told the Monitor, “While the prospect of running against Donald Trump in the 2016 election is mirth-inducing (presumably, this would make my party competitive in Alabama and Wyoming), he's not a serious candidate for President, so one can't judge him by the goals of normal campaigns.”

Trump's goals are not necessarily those of the average presidential candidate, says Mr. Balaban. “Donald Trump is running to attract attention to himself and presumably make money, but he has less of a chance of becoming the Republican nominee than 2%ers like Rick Santorum,” he writes in an email interview. “So by the standards of attracting attention to himself, Trump is being enormously successful.”

But at the same time, Balaban adds, such "success" won't translate into political momentum.

" ‘There's no such thing as bad publicity’ does not apply to the United States Presidency," says Balaban. "Sure, it can lead to a short-term surge in the polls, but at some point, the Republican primary electorate will get serious about selecting a nominee and when they do, they will select one of the 16 (!) other candidates not named Donald Trump.”

William Galston, a senior fellow at the Brookings Institution in Washington, D.C., agrees. “I would bet my retirement account against Donald Trump’s nomination," he says in an interview. "But, will he do better than expected in some of the early going? Possibly.”

Trump currently leads the Republican field at 17 percent, according to USA Today/Suffolk University poll released Tuesday, with former Florida governor Jeb Bush at second place with 14 percent. However, the same poll finds him to be running the weakest against Democrat Hillary Clinton.

Mr. Galston, a former policy adviser to President Clinton, also worked on the presidential campaigns of Democratic candidates Al Gore and Walter Mondale.

“I will take [Trump] at his word that he’s running for president and not for higher TV ratings,” Galston says. “That being the case, he has found a formula for attracting a relatively small group of highly intense supporters – while generating a much larger group of people who wouldn’t vote for him ... if he were the last Republican on earth.”

Some experts speculate that Trump's slams against the Mexican government may have given him the edge in recent polls, while others see his jibes as boosting his ratings for personal gain.

“Whether it’s good noise or not," says Galston, "it’s good noise for him."