Fiona Field on the latest episode in the reality show which drew huge interest worldwide. Where now for the royal rock stars?
One could forgive Queen Elizabeth for a few blue Monday duvet days, binge-watching season one of The Crown, comparing her new reality with the Duke and Duchess of Sussex’s dramatic abdication. Is this the marketing move of the century for Harry and Meghan (H&M), or the start of the end? What lessons can be learnt from how their story unfolded?
It all started so well when Meghan first arrived on the scene. The new super-couple reflected much needed diversity among the Windsors. Markle’s credentials in working with both the UN and One Young World heralded a bright new era for the royals. Her commitment to feminist issues and as an advocate for sustainable causes was both on brand and on trend.
What could possibly go wrong?
Everything changed when the media started to question whether they were practising what they preached. Now who can blame a gal for taking a lift in Elton John’s private jet, but the media went to town on their air miles and it was the first of a series of dents to their brand image. An easy mistake and one to which today brands face increasing pressure to conform.
Being culturally relevant means moving with the times and the power of sustainability is a message being considered by many. The lesson for brands is to consider the ability to follow through, before making big commitments. Know your audience and don’t forget the key stakeholders. H&M were apparently planning their abdication for some months.
But having hired international PR consultants, they ignored communicating with the queen, arguably the most influential stakeholder. The move demonstrated the most blatant show of disrespect and served to undermine their entire communications plan. The queen on the other hand handled the situation ably and was calm, clever and strategic in her response.
Free to make millions from major deals: Having chosen a new life less regal, the Duke and Duchess of Sussex, Harry and Megan, will be banned from using their HRH titles and will no longer receive public funds. As they will cease being working members of the royal family, they will be known as Harry, Duke of Sussex and Megan, Duchess of Sussex. Megan and Harry are pictured on a visit in 2018 to the Epic Irish emigration museum in Dublin’s Docklands.
The message here for anyone in marketing is clear; know your audience and don’t forget the people who hold the purse strings, whether it be in the boardroom or Buckingham Palace. Meghan chose to by-pass both the hostile British media and the royal rota. She posted the news on her Sussex Royal Instagram account to a mere 11 million followers.
While social media has in some ways liberated celebrities by having a direct voice with their audiences, it can also present many digital foot-in-mouth examples. For Meghan and Diana before her, it is a case of beware of the hand that feeds you and by deliberately snubbing the British media, H&M incurred more negative PR, not least the attacks by Piers Morgan.
The lesson here is obvious and is one of picking your partners wisely. It could be argued that a PR consultant that was more in tune with the royal family and based in the same country may have offered more local insight for Meghan’s return to life back on planet Earth. Since the dawn of time, storytelling is fuelled by heroes and villains like Batman and the Joker.
We have Dorothy and the Wicked Witch of the West and even the latter-day Trump and Pelosi. History shows how people are driven to find good and evil in everything and comparisons can only be made through the lens of the good, the bad and the ugly. The media know it, the royals know it and the general public are willing participants in this ultimate reality show.
Before Meghan came along, it was lovely Diana v frumpy Fergie and after that came serious William v the boyish cheeky chappie Harry and now classic Kate v calculating Meghan. In today’s reality obsessed world, when news media is dominated by the impending doom and gloom of Brexit, the story of ‘Brand Royal’ was bound to be a box-office winner.
H&M may have made mistakes, but at least they could not have been accused of being dull, unlike Meghan’s famous sister-in-law. So too with marketing, behind every great ad is a great story. Advertising today often gets diluted, or rather polluted, with so much information, that unless there is a real need or demand for the product, no one really plays a blind bit of notice.
Perhaps it is time for a bit more injection of colour to our marketing communications. Is your brand more Kate or Meghan? For Meghan and Harry, the future is uncertain, but for anyone in marketing, I would recommend you think of three things. How local is your messaging? Is your brand following through on your commitments? How compelling is your brand story?
As for the queen?
She gets my vote for International Woman of the Year.
Fiona Field is deputy managing director at Mediaworks and board director of IAPI