Brands chosen by Kate Middleton need to use PR to maximise that royal association as excitement over her wedding to Prince William mounts, according to research commissioned by Marketing Week.
Burberry trench coat? Check. Links of London earrings? Check. Whistles blouse? Check. These are just some of the brands royal bride-to-be Kate Middleton has been snapped wearing and have made it onto the wishlists of many followers around the country.
They are also on a list of brands compiled by Marketing Week for an exclusive survey of 1,000 UK consumers conducted by Lightspeed Research to investigate the growing reach of the “Kate effect”.
Sales of products connected to Middleton are indeed staggering. The £650 Burberry trench coat she wore last month sold out within a day, as did the navy blue Issa dress she donned for the official engagement press call last November. The blouse from Whistles and dress from Reiss she selected from her own wardrobe for engagement portraits have both recently been re-released to meet demand. As for the Links of London earrings Middleton bought some time before the photos, the catfight that broke out in a New York store over the last pair says it all.
While Middleton’s status as a fashion icon is confirmed by the survey results, brand awareness of these labels has been mixed. “Pretty”, “stylish” and “fashionable” are the words most associated with Middleton, with 71%, 54% and 41% selecting these descriptions from a list.
Just 7% say she is “boring” and “plain”, although when broken down by age, this shoots up to 15% for the 18 to 24-year-old demographic.
However, this demographic is more likely than their older counterparts to have bought a brand because it was associated with Middleton. Indeed, 9% of 18 to 24-year-olds admit to having done so, as do 10% of 25 to 34-year-olds, and just 3% of 35 to 44-year-olds.
“Younger people seem to be more influenced by role models and follow through on their purchase desires,” says Lightspeed EMEA marketing director Ralph Risk. “They tend to be more able to relate to and associate with Kate as a person.”
Women register a higher brand awareness than men, with Burberry topping the list for both. When selecting from a list of brands, 26% of women in the survey say they associate this brand with Middleton, compared with 18% of men and 22% overall.
However, despite the surge in sales, there is less of an immediate connection for other brands in the survey. Twelve per cent of female respondents associate the Whistles brand with Middleton, compared with 10% for Issa, 7% for Reiss and just 1% for Links of London.
Lightspeed’s Risk suggests that while these brands appeared in official royal engagement pictures, Whistles and Reiss perhaps fare better than Links because of the media attention the re-release of the blouse and dress have attracted.
Column inches declaring Middleton’s latest accessory as a must-have are now commonplace, and 39% say they read about Middleton and a brand in a newspaper. She is also cropping up on fashion blogs the website Coolspotters.com has a section dedicated to listing items she has been seen sporting but just 4% say they have seen her on a blog or website, highlighting that her biggest impact is still through traditional media channels.
Brands that haven’t been worn in public by the bride-to-be have cottoned on to her selling power by publicising lookalike products for a budget price. Sales of a £22 Asda version of the Burberry coat reportedly jumped by 300%, while Peacocks reported a 95% rise in sales of a fascinator hair accessory in a similar style to one she was seen wearing. QVC and Ernest Jones have both produced replica engagement rings and TK Maxx is to follow Tesco’s lead in producing a wallet-friendly copy of the now famous Issa dress (see The Frontline, below).
It seems that the public, however, are less likely to pick up on a famous connection when it’s not as authentic. Just 2% of people in the survey associate Middleton with Tesco and QVC, and 4% with Ernest Jones, despite their attempts to cash in with royal-inspired merchandise.
Other brands benefit from a royal halo effect. Royal Doulton and Fortnum & Mason both hold royal warrants, and both score 17% in the survey.
And while secrecy still surrounds the identity of the designer of the wedding dress that Middleton will wear on 29 April, names such as Alexander McQueen and Vivienne Westwood score 12% and 10% respectively, as both have been mentioned in the whirlwind of media speculation.
Lightspeed’s Risk claims that because members of the royal family are not allowed to endorse brands in the same way as they are able to support causes, an organic brand connection can be even more powerful than a conventional paid-for partnership. “There is a feeling that if Kate is wearing something she is actually recommending it,” he says.
But Risk warns that brands should consider the other side of being linked with a royal personality. While 19% of women said they would be more likely to purchase items they saw Middleton with, 14% of men would be less likely to buy jewellery that had the same connection.
“A significant minority of people are not royalists and some are decidedly anti-royal, so there could be a backlash from these demographics. Brands have to be aware of that, and not alienate people,” he says.
Similar caution should be exercised when considering the respondents who feel it is appropriate for royals to promote brands, he adds. A total of 36% feel this way, and this figure rises to 44% among 18to 24-year-olds. However, Risk says the majority still say it is wrong for members of the royal family to be used as brand ambassadors. This, he notes, is the biggest difference between royalty and celebrity.
Unlike conventional celebrities, brands cannot randomly send Middleton gifts in the hope that she will be photographed with a product. Her identity has been further protected from commercialisation following a royal decree banning brands from using her full name to sell products.
While brands must leave it purely to chance as to whether the princess-to-be will give them her approval, marketers can still use PR and social media to publicise the fact Middleton is wearing or using their brand.
The nation might soon recover from royal wedding fever, but as Sophie Barrett from Links of London points out, the evolution of Kate Middleton into a style icon will continue to have an effect on brand desire for some time.
41% …of survey respondents associate the word ’fashionable’ with Kate Middleton.
39% …of survey respondents read about Kate Middleton being associated with a brand in a newspaper, compared with 18% online.
26% …of women who took part in the survey associate Kate Middleton with Burberry.
WE ASK MARKETERS ON THE FRONTLINE WHETHER OUR ’TRENDS’ RESEARCH MATCHES THEIR EXPERIENCE ON THE GROUND
Links of London
I wasn’t expecting for us to come that high in the survey; I think brands like Reiss and Burberry have done better because coats and resses stand out so much more than earrings.
However, as soon as the engagement photo went out we released a global press release about Kate choosing to wear those Links earrings. Our New York and Japanese offices were so excited. In one of our New York stores people were literally fighting over the last pair of earrings in stock.
Kate has been a customer of ours for a long time and she actually had the earrings well before the photos. But we haven’t heavily promoted it because, unlike other brands, we didn’t want to produce Kate-named memorabilia and be seen as cashing in on the royal wedding.
We are known primarily as a gifting brand, and not so much as a bridal brand, but that’s the direction we are going in so it has been good timing with the Kate association.
Kate holds the same selling power as other celebrities if not more. I think that she will escalate even more into a kind of Jackie Onassis-type style icon.
We do have quite a celebrity following. Some of it is placed through us and some of it is natural. Our in-house press office monitors who is wearing our pieces. Social media is a driving force for us and our Facebook followers are very engaged.
[Prince Harry’s girlfriend] Chelsy Davy, Madonna’s daughter Lourdes, actor Ed Westwick and presenter Fearne Cotton all own our skull friendship bracelet, which has become a best seller. And as Cat Deeley is the official face of our brand she will be wearing some of our pieces when she presents coverage of the royal wedding.
Head of communications
It was interesting to see that 36% of survey respondents think it is OK for members of the royal family to promote brands. This certainlyreflects a blurring of the lines between celebrities and royals.
From a PR point of view, Kate’s style is a nice news hook. We have worked with our media partners on how to get Kate’s look and what her honeymoon wardrobe might be. We have a dress coming in soon that is similar to her engagement dress and we have highlighted coats similar to her Burberry mac.
As much as we love Kate, we aren’t about just her style. We’re a democratic brand so we wouldn’t associate ourselves with just one celebrity or even develop celebrity partnerships.
But we are going to be having some fun around the royal wedding though. We are going to have cardboard cut-outs of William and Kate in some stores and we have had inquiries from film crews who want to feature TK Maxx in documentaries about “Kate’s London” because she has reportedly shopped in our stores.
It’s nice recognition for our brand and we are glad that Kate continues to be a customer of ours. We communicated the fact that Kate chose to wear a Reiss dress for her engagement pictures but the Palace had already issued a press release listing the brands she was wearing anyway, so we didn’t need to do that much.
We have had celebrities showcasing our items before. Olivia Palermo from reality show The Hills wears our stuff quite a lot and we get a similar demand for the things she wears. But you have to be a bit more respectful when it comes to the royals. You don’t want to come across as being exploitative. We got in touch with St James’ Palace to be clear on the dos and don’ts of publicising the fact that Kate was wearing our dress. They said we were the only brand so far that had called and asked. We don’t want to lose any customer, whether they are royal, celebrity or regular people, so we wanted to show that respect for Kate.
We wouldn’t do something like put out a Kate look book. I don’t think capitalising on the royal wedding is for everyone, certainly not for a fashion brand like us.