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the rambunctious British press, heartened by a progressive public spirit, painted the brand as unfashionable and outdated.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.