iBaby: Clarence House’s latest must have toy

Royal Baby


Photo Credit: Andre Camara

So there we have it; the conclusion of the greatest product launch campaign Britain has ever seen. No, Apple didn’t bring out the iWatch while you weren’t looking. I’m talking about the latest release from modish mass market lifestyle brand Clarence House. In order to promote the latest instalment in their Cambridge range, the brand’s PR pixies arranged a years-long campaign, incorporating a wedding-based stunt, a boat party, several celebrity world tours and a much-hyped mystery unveiling. The whole thing is enough to make an old hand like me exhausted, but will it pay off?

A good bet for an early health-check is to look at the social media traction. Twitter have run a blog (link: http://blog.uk.twitter.com/2013/07/royalbaby.html?m=1) deconstructing the ‘royalbaby’ hashtag which will make encouraging reading for Clarence House’s analysts. Following the official launch announcement (timed daringly late – 8.35pm) twitter action reached 25,300 tweets per minute.

Clarence House kept a handle on the conversation throughout. Their announcement included a series of tweets revealing tantalising product details (including the all-important weight, usually considered to be a crucial detail in the sector) which provided food for discussion for consumers. They also arranged supporting tweets from brand-appropriate influencers, including the Daily Mail and the British Monarchy. The brand will also be pleased that they’ve ironed out creases in their social media machine. Their 2011 ‘Royal Wedding’ stunt – which garnered great trad media traction – sparked criticism from some commentators for its strikingly negative reception among 33% of British Tweeters (link: http://www.forbes.com/sites/jennagoudreau/2011/04/29/one-third-of-brits-on-twitter-dont-care-about-royal-wedding/).

Speaking of trad media, the launch marks the jewel in the crown of Clarence House’s much lauded press and broadcast strategy. Over the past few years a team of advisers including Jamie Lowther-Pinkerton, Paddy Harverson and most recently Sally Osman (a canny acquisition from Sony, another big selling entertainment producer) have run a PR campaign which stands as a benchmark for taking advantage of a weakened media.

For decades, the rambunctious British press, heartened by a progressive public spirit, painted the brand as unfashionable and outdated. It took particular joy in the infamous malfunction of the popular Princess Wales model (though it showed contrition after forcing that product from the market). Now, with newsrooms collapsing, broadcast getting puffier by the day and commentary fracturing across cyberspace, Clarence House has realised the media has a use for the brand values its products offer: pappy nationalism, quirky political incorrectness and soft-focus shots of brunette women in dresses. Only British Daily The Independent dared to cover the launch without a hefty forelock tug, and analysts predict 90% of independent readers are sandal-wearing teachers who hate fun, love and freedom.

However, the real test will come in the value for Clarence House’s shadowy parent company Brand Britain (BBinc). BBinc have great success with their own stunts, including an innovative experiential advert-cum-sports party last summer, and they’ll be watching to see if Clarence House, which is a pricy and strategically complex asset, can still deliver the goods. One study last year valued Clarence House at £44bn, largely due to its popularity in foreign markets, but others disagree. On BBC breakfast this morning republican campaigner Graham Swift claimed that Visit Britain predict a near-zero change in tourism revenues if BBinc were to scrap its venerable property.

What’s more, we’ll need to see how the product matures. When, for the first time, it appears before the public to demonstrate the functionality we citizens have paid for, how will it work? When it looks at the array of camera flashes and hungry eyes, at the waving celebrity bandwagoners and the grasping politicians, what will it do? Will it stand firm, or will it falter? Will it understand that while it feels like it’s flesh and blood, it’s really manufactured? Only time will tell.

50 Years of Psycho Stuntsmanship

As the nights draw in faster and faster, it’s worth remembering that, 50 years ago, Alfred Hitchcock dreamed up two things that have defined the horror film industry ever since. The first was the film Psycho. The second was a publicity stunt for the film that was so successful that it has come back time and time again, in one form or another, to open other films. Because of its ubiquity, it doesn’t appear to be revolutionary anymore, but it was.

The stunt was simple; Hitchcock simply demanded that the audience be barred from entering the cinema after the film had started. Back then, people tended to wander into the cinema half way through a film and stay for the first reels of the next showing if they liked what they saw. Read the rest of this entry »

Tony Blair’s Cunning Stunt

If any politician was going to pull off the greatest stunt of a generation, it really had to be Tony Blair. And, by committing all the proceeds from his memoirs (as well as the £4 million advance) to the Royal British Legion’s Battle Back challenge centre, a project that will provide state-of-the-art rehabilitation services for seriously injured troops returning from the frontline, he has done exactly that.

The book can now be read guilt free, knowing that the proceeds will not be lining Blair’s pockets but helping soldiers returning from the frontline. It’s got all the talkability that Mandelson’s book lacked, it’s released in a season when most politicians are on holiday and the only serious competition it has for the front pages are Kelly Brook celebrating naked month by dyeing herself orange and parading in a series of ever-skimpier frocks and Joe McElderry coming out of the closet in the hope that it’ll shift a few more units of his debut album. Read the rest of this entry »

Stunt of the Week

It’s been a good week for stunts – the Barefoot Bandit’s a classy effort, but a little over-complicated. More gloriously simple is Island’s approach to promoting Tom Jones’s new album of hymns, Praise and Blame.

Leaving the praise to the critics, who see it as an equivalent to Johnny Cash’s late bid for credibility, Island’s VP, David Sharpe, seems to have taken it upon himself to do the blaming, in an accusatory leaked email that suggests he would rather not have spent millions on a church album and wanted a repeat of Jones’s Sex Bomb stylings.

This was written in May, but leaked only now, in the week of release, just in time for the Sunday Times, the Telegraph and pretty much every other media outlet to get all hot under the collar about it and puff the album’s arrival in spectacular fashion in news and reviews pages.

Stunt of the week, without a doubt. But that’s not unusual, given that it was also the conversation of the week.

PR Fail of the Week: Dyer Straits

Danny Dyer’s been cut from his role as Zoo magazine’s Agony Uncle after apparently dishing out a receipe for vengeance instead of advice – his column advised one dumped correspondent to “cut your ex’s face, and then no one will want her” if all other options failed.

So is this a “regrettable production error”, as the magazine insists, or a full-scale PR fail?

Dyer claims he was misquoted, but his protestations have been lost in the tsunami of complaint – and, unsurprisingly, Dyer’s lost his job.

What grabs me, though, is the possible conspiracy theories implicit in this. Did someone truly believe that this was an ironic suggestion? Does Danny Dyer believe his own hard-man hype? Did someone want rid of Danny Dyer from Zoo magazine? Did someone think that putting in an offensive quote would cause outrage for PR purposes without having the knock on effect of losing Dyer his job? Who was this good PR for?

I could go on for hours. Conspiracy theories; don’t you love them?

Post-Election Stuntwatch: Wrestling for Control

The failure of anyone to take meaningful control of the country in the wake of the General Election says a great deal about the hype that the media work up as a cappuccino froth of sound bites. It felt like going to a bad movie – the trailer was exceptional but the movie itself is overlong and a terrible letdown.

We may have had debates, but the analogue TV hype didn’t change voters’ hearts. We may have seen an upsurge of the digital agenda, but Twitter and the new transparency still doesn’t reach the soul of the country, doesn’t reach the grassroots. The election has forced us to question the people pulling the strings. Read the rest of this entry »

Election Stuntwatch: All Great Leaders Need Great PR

Since I encountered an intriguing article on Genghis Khan, which seemed to me to prove that he was one of the first great leaders to employ a publicist, and posted a link to it on Twitter, there have been quite a number of responses suggesting that Jesus, Pliny, Alexander the Great and Moses all employed publicists first.

Regardless, the story of Khan single-handedly wiping out 1,748,000 people in one hour has lasted for generations (click here to read the full article). All good leaders need good PR – and whoever cooked up that bit of spin was amongst the best and greatest. There is, as the saying goes, nothing more dismal than a fact.

But if history has judged Genghis Khan to be legendary, how will history treat Gordon Brown, Nick Clegg and David Cameron? What will they have done to create a legend. Tony Blair was patently eager to leave a legacy, and may leave telltale traces for historians if he’s lucky, but the leaders contesting this election have no compelling story, no legend. At every turn, each one of them – and their advisers – sandpaper away the interesting impulses that lead to great stories accreting around a person. Read the rest of this entry »

Election Stuntwatch: Gordon’s Gaffe on Tape

Finagle’s Law of Dynamic Negatives states that ‘anything that can go wrong, will—at the worst possible moment!’.

From now on, I suspect, any political instance of this law in action will be known as the ‘Brown Variant’, after unguarded remarks about a woman he had just spoken to on a walkabout were broadcast to the world. He condemned Gillian Duffy as a ‘bigot’ into a radio mic he didn’t realise was still live.

Unsurprisingly, the press have pounced. What is surprising is that this is the first serious gaffe on any side in a flawless, highly polished election campaign. Read the rest of this entry »

Election Stuntwatch: The Rise of Old Media

When I was 19, the publicist Theo Cowan – this country’s first pro celebrity PR wrangler, who created the Rank Charm School, an acting school run the Rank Film company that brought the world Roger Moore, Joan Collins, Christopher Lee, Diana Dors and more – granted me an audience in Poland Street. “Keep your clients’ feet on the ground,” he told me. “NEVER let someone believe a good review!”

This is advice that needs to be handed on to Nick Clegg, after last night’s second Leaders’ Debate. He appeared to have spent the week following his remarkable showing in the first debate positively wallowing in the good reviews. Certainly his people believed the good press enough to let Clegg give Brown and Cameron enough room to make up lost ground. That said, he survived pretty well mostly thanks to the MPs’ expenses scandal allowing too many people to see the puppet strings in this campaign. Read the rest of this entry »

Election Stuntwatch: The Leadership Debate

We’re living in what Seth Godden calls “the century of ideas diffusion”. Last night’s historic TV debate was launched with a weight of expectation as to how it might change this perception. If it did, it was mostly for the political classes.

The debate was carefully, rigorously planned as an attempt to revivify politics, seen as a necessity now that all trust has been leeched away from politics and politicians. But if the people behind its gaffe-free polish thought that this would help re-engage the electorate, who have been drifting away slowly but surely for years, they were wrong.

Read the rest of this entry »