Cele Otnes is the Investors in Business Education Professor of Marketing and Professor of Advertising at the University of Illinois, and an expert in how advertising and marketing shape rituals such as weddings, holidays and cultural events. She spoke with News Bureau business and law editor Phil Ciciora about the branding impact of the changing face of the British royal family.
You and Pauline Maclaran of Royal Holloway, University of London, are co-authors of a forthcoming book about the branding of the British royal family titled “Royal Fever: The British Monarchy in Consumer Culture.” What is the big takeaway from the book?
The big takeaway is that the British royal family “brand” can be understood as a complex of five types of brands that resonate in global consumer culture, and that’s why it’s so appealing to many people as a consumption and experiential “touchpoint.”
Specifically, the British royal family brand consists of a heritage brand, a human brand, and, relatedly, a family brand – with all of the drama and soap operas that implies, but even more than most families because of its immense wealth and stature. It’s also a global brand, and, probably most appealing, given its high nod to fashion and aesthetics, a luxury brand.
The book talks about all of the different ways consumers can interact with the royal family within consumption-oriented spheres – from buying satirical T-shirts from street vendors, to investing in high-end commemorative collectibles, to visiting the many well-preserved and narrative-laden touristic sites around Britain and, indeed, the globe.
As the recent birth of Princess Charlotte shows, there’s really no way to identify an endpoint to the topic. In short, the royal family is likely to remain a viable and visible moving target in terms of its centrality to cultural rituals and consumer behavior.
In 2013, it was predicted that the birth of Prince George of Cambridge, the firstborn child of Prince William and the former Kate Middleton, the Duchess of Cambridge, would spawn a “baby bump” for the British economy. Did such a “bump” occur?
With respect to the birth of Prince George, The Centre for Retailing Research in Britain predicted he would contribute $370.5 million to the British economy in the nine weeks before and after the birth. Of that figure, large expenditure categories included spending of $120.5 million on festivities; $117 million on souvenirs and toys; and $33.5 million on books, DVDs and media connected to the event.
Has there been a “Kate-effect” for the toddler and baby products the royal couple uses in public? Or have the royal-baby products mostly been relegated to the realm of kitsch – tchotchkes that only tourists would buy?
Reports are that there has been some effect on items such as blankets and strollers – definitely not just in the realm of kitsch. And Kate’s maternity clothes and post-baby clothes also reportedly sell out very quickly. Some sources like Britain’s Daily Mail, a popular newspaper among middle-class readers who follow the royals, also even provide descriptions of the items and sites where they can be acquired, which no doubt fuels the mania for copycat merchandise.
The next big event on the royal radar will likely be the coronation of Prince Charles. In terms of branding, will that likely dwarf the royal-baby hype, since coronations happen so infrequently?
I’m not so sure that this will be the next big event; it’s quite possible that it could be a funeral. Prince Philip, the husband of Queen Elizabeth II, will be 94 years old next month. But if the queen lives as long as her mother, the next coronation will be almost 75 years after the last one, making it a once-in-a-lifetime event for many people.
As early as 2002, the Lord Chamberlain’s Office began discussing staging a relatively scaled-down coronation ceremony for Charles. It really depends on how much of a to-do St. James’s Palace, which is the official name for the marketing arm of the monarchy, wants to make of the occasion. There are rumors that Prince Charles will not wear full coronation regalia, but will instead wear his military uniform when crowned.
However, even if the coronation is toned down, I think it will receive tremendous media coverage and recognition by retailers and producers of royal-consumption experiences. My guess is that it will dwarf the royal-baby hype, both because of its rarity and also because so many foreign monarchs and famous people will attend.
And, of course, there will be the question of whether Camilla is crowned queen – which may be controversial, given what the action might stir up among fans of Princess Diana.
Of course, any coronation will be preceded by the queen’s funeral, which will be a huge national and global event. Traditionally, coronations have occurred many months after the funeral of the last reigning monarch, because it is thought unseemly to celebrate the new successor’s reign while the nation is still in mourning.
Simply put, people really crave the rituals that accompany these royal milestones. For example, the queen will become Britain’s longest-reigning monarch on September 9, 2015. However, this is normally the time of year she is vacationing at Balmoral, her Scottish home. After the palace indicated that no commemorative events were planned, some royal fans circulated a petition on Facebook, asking the queen to reconsider.
What role has social media played in enhancing the royal brand?
Social media is playing a huge role in reaching younger and older fans of the Royal Family alike. One of the more active websites is Royal Central.com, which bills itself as “the most popular independent source for news on the British Royal Family…[with] an average of 190,000 readers per month.” The British monarchy also has its own website, www.royal.gov.uk, which has tried to improve the access to and the image of the monarchy. It posts the appearance schedules of members of the royal family, their biographies, historical information, and also information about how the royal family is funded, which changed significantly in recent years. (No more handouts from Parliament!)
Some of the social media efforts backfired, though. Prince Harry had his own Facebook page under a pseudonym and was found out, so he purportedly took it down.