Winston Fletcher: Three cheers for the most enigmatic brand we know

Take off your hat and genuflect as the world’s most prominent but wayward brand shows what can be done when it comes to Special Promotion. By Winston Fletcher

It would be churlish to let this week pass without paying obeisance to one of the world’s greatest brands. Some of its values are a bit wobbly, but then no brand is perfect – as everyone knows, the perfect brand is an oxymoron.

Bafflingly, it succeeds despite driving a golden coach and horses through many of branding’s most exalted rules. It has no brand name. Or rather, it has several interchangeable brand names. It has no logo. It has no corporate design style. It does not advertise. It is by no means famous for its consistency: manic unpredictability is closer to the truth. Despite these imperfections, it has massive global awareness, and right now has almost universally high brand rating scores. Of course, it has its detractors. No brand is loved and admired by everyone on earth. Me, I would not give the time of day to a Rolex and would not cross the street for a Ferrari. But some of you would disagree.

We are, of course, talking Royalty here. Or is the brand name Monarchy? Or Majesty? Or Sovereignty? Or Kings and Queens and Princes? All those confusing brand names need sorting. A consultancy should be consulted. For a right royal fee Interbrand would come up with a grand brand name faster than you can swing a corgi. How about Dynasty? Pedigree Chums? Right Old Queens? OK, I’ll leave it to Interbrand.

But you have to admit that when the brand is on Special Promotion its packaging is top quartile. The Special Promotion packaging threw aside its mothballs when the Queen Mum snuffed it – as it always does for weddings, coronations, funerals and visiting dignitaries of unspeakable political persuasions. Presumably the royals do not use it at other times because they don’t want to wear it out. That is daffy. Crowns and diadems, orbs and sceptres are iconic brand emblems. Those golden coaches are iconic as well, and tricky to emulate. If you are thinking of trotting round London in a golden coach, don’t go there. The household cavalry will have you ensconced in the Tower, impaled on a pikestaff, and sporting thumbscrews before you can say slitty-eyes.

The Special Promotion packaging combines easy identification with high memorability – and was designed to do so, make no mistake about it. From time immemorial potentates have always ensured their promotional packs add value. When all else were dressed in skins and sackcloth, the Pharaohs and Rajahs, Sultans and Sultanas had their noble designers attire them in right regal attire. Even the no-brainers among them knew instinctively that a blue-blooded brand needs bloody posh packaging. Great marketing blokes, those potentates.

Unfortunately our royal brand’s regular, non-promotional packaging is – well, ugh. True enough, there are some distinctive elements. The Queen’s majestic titfers certainly provide instant recognition – vital when she’s on walkabout among the C2DE natives and could easily get mislaid. But the brand qualities! The ugh word is too generous. Her day-to-day packaging needs a thorough corporate design makeover. Any designer could do it, but it would be wise to keep away from the BA tailfin lot. Patriotic motifs are not their strong point.

Still, if longevity is the true test of a great brand this is one of the greatest. There was a glitch in the mid-17th century, when the brand lost all its values and its head shortly afterwards. But the relaunch was a triumph: clever marketing and some creative positioning. Well, that was Nell Gwynne’s view. Nor has it been an absolutely smooth ride since, despite the lack of competition. The brand was very nearly de-listed Down Under a couple of years ago, and many of the recent line extensions have been toe-sucking disasters. Nonetheless the brand survives and thrives. So, what marketing lessons can we all learn?

Firstly, think long term. Lately the Queen has been thinking so long term she may be planning to become immortal, like her Roman predecessor Caligula. (He too was keen on horses. He tried to get his nag Incitatus into the senate – a temptation she has resisted. So far.) Not so long ago some of the line extensions began to react to short-term pressures and nearly lost the plot. The TV series Confessions of Randy Royals did the brand equity no good at all.

Secondly, the brand is living proof that it’s the image that counts. One of the oldest rules of marketing is to stay close to your customers, although this is something royal brands find tough. But, if you can’t do it, fake it. Keep mingling. Like King George VI during the blitz; keep close to the people and the people will keep close to you. That’s good image management

Thirdly, marketing. As every Marketing Week reader knows, marketing is more important than production. This is good news for the royals, as they do not produce a lot. It is not in their spiritual DNA. Nowadays the royal time sheets show marketing occupies 99.9 per cent of their waking hours, maybe more. At last they are getting their priorities right.

Don’t knock it. The British whatever-it’s-called is probably the longest-established money-making brand in the history of the universe. Respect.

Iain Murray is on holiday

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