The 'Royal' Brand
While the circle of reigning monarchs is relatively small across most countries, there are a plethora of royal micronations in the world. Emperors and Queens, Grand Dukes and Princesses are strewn across the continents. Growing, more like it. Who doesn't like glittering tiaras and fancy gowns! For royals, there’s an (in)formal code on how to behave and present ourselves in public. And like ballet dancers, opera singers and athletes, the performance of royalty requires excessive training. Curious as I have been from the outside looking in, I am even more fascinated to understand and learn from the inside looking out.
In the midst of queening, I found myself in need of groceries. Fortunately, I beat the late-afternoon rush of Wegmans East Avenue store. (If grocery shopping is good enough for Princess Kate, it's good enough for anyone else!) Though I went in for only a handful of items, I somehow left there with a lot more. It's easy to lose yourself there. The clean aisles. The helpful employees. The delectable confections at the bakery. It's amazing! Based out of Rochester, the store has opened up all over the region. How and why have so many people come to love and idolize this chain? Branding may have something to do with it. Branding is the promotion of a particular product or service by means of design and advertising in order to create unique and influential differences. Through effective branding, consumers buy into a perceived set of imagined ideals and values. There's a reason people prefer Wegmans over Aldi's, Nike over Adidas, or Coca-Cola over Pepsi. Many would argue one brand's superiority over the other. Apple and Samsung may bear some similarities, but the former has built its success out of branding itself as a status symbol among cafe connoisseurs and middling class urbanites. Before Apple came to dominate the known world, another empire had done so through similar means.
By the late 1800s, the British Empire was the largest empire on earth. From royal portraits, postage stamps, to soap advertisements, the Queen-Empress was transformed from perpetual widow to elderly stateswoman of a far-flung empire. Ceremonies and rituals were also invented to reflect the 'imperial' monarchy of the 19th and 20th centuries. Among them included the Imperial Durbar in India. The ceremony marked the accession of a new Emperor or Empress of India, with princes and dignitaries throughout the Raj participating in the occasion. In 1911, the durbar was given even greater pomp when King George V became the first (and last) British sovereign to attend in person. Between the glittering armor of the ceremonial soldiers and the bedecked royals and princelings, this ceremony displayed Britain's royal brand of wealth, power, and splendor.
Two years after the glittering spectacle, the grim First World War broke out. As the Empire and her allies were at war abroad, anger brewed at home. German families were harassed. Shops and stores owned by Germans were targeted. Even dachshunds were kicked! Soon, anti-German and republican sentiments turned towards the Monarchy. Not only did members of the British royal family marry into German and Russian autocratic ruling houses (all three rulers were first cousins), but the British Royal House - Saxe-Coburg-Gotha - was wholeheartedly German. Sharing its name with German bombs raining down on English towns and cities, the King and his family increasingly feared the public would turn against them. George V took action. A royal proclamation issued on 17 July, 1917 changed the family name to the Royal House of Windsor, named after the very English castle. An act was later passed that discarded all German titles and associations from the British Royal Family. Extended relations living in Britain were forced to adopt English names and titles; those supporting the enemy had their English titles and ranks formally revoked. Louis Mountbatten, before becoming the renowned sailor and last Viceroy of India, was born Prince Louis of Battenberg. The royal rebranding also included an increase in utilizing the press. Using print and 'new' media - newsreels - the King was shown inspecting troops at the frontline, while his consort Mary of Teck was photographed nursing the injured and hosting fundraisers for the war effort. The positioning of the Royal Family as accessible to the public greatly benefited the Monarchy. While Germany, Austria, and Russia deposed their crowned heads, Britain was one of the few to survive the War.
1939 was another moment for a royal reassessment. Three years earlier, the British public was shocked after Edward VIII abdicated to marry Wallis Simpson, a twice-divorced woman. Reluctantly taking the throne after his brother's abdication, George VI had to overcome his stuttering and shyness as Britain prepared to enter the Second World War. His wife Elizabeth Bowes-Lyon, meanwhile, became a symbol of hope during the war. In addition to touring local hospitals and factories to boost morale, she publicly opposed the government's suggestion to leave London during the Blitz. Even after Buckingham Palace was hit during air raids, the Royal Family never left the capital. No wonder Hitler was said to have viewed her as "the most dangerous woman in Europe" as she and the Royal Family became the literal faces of national resistance. Though their royal brand has seen some rough times in recent decades, the Monarchy's ability to adapt rather than resist has proven successful so far.
But if they could adapt their royal brand in the span of a century, how possible would it be for me to create one?
To get a fresh course on branding, I turned to none other than Louie Maier. Maier has made a name for himself in the marketing and entertainment industries. The owner of Brass Bar & Lounge (a swanky, Gatsby-esque venue in the heart of Rochester’s nightlife district), Locals Only (a locally-sourced bar and eatery, located next to Brass), Brandmint (a marketing solution firm), and many other projects in the works, Maier’s philosophy of “chase the passion, not the paycheck” remains at the heart of all his ventures. Louie's Brandmint has taken on clients from a variety of industries, including politics. Working for the City of Rochester Mayor’s Office, he affirms the influential role of branding in the political field. The 2016 U.S. Elections is testament to that fact. In a field of experienced politicos, it was Trump’s brand of Washington outsider, corporate go-getter, and machismo attitude which – regardless of your political leanings – indirectly led him to victory. Although royals are and remain unelected, they adhere to what Maier refers to as “personal branding”.
In the 24/7 world of new and social media, personal branding is not exclusive to the world of politicians and princesses. We all create and curate our own personal brands - from writing social media posts, to sharing news, and uploading photos (with or without the filters!) A brand that may not always be concurrent with our everyday lives. Debbie O’Connor, an Australian brand manager, found five common ‘super powers’ of successful personal brands: thought leadership, credibility, trust, impact, and leverage. Central to personal branding is an authentic person who is willing to talk passionately about a topic or cause. Through their passionate engagements the brand builds credibility. Authentic and credible individuals – often having higher levels of trust than, say, governments and corporations – gain respect and trust. Trustworthy individuals have greater influence over their followers, which can then be used by the personal brand to create greater opportunities. Perhaps royals have learned from successful brand managers – or are royals providing us a lesson?
After all, they too require followers to buy into the royal brand. (They could also do so by the sword, but it never proves successful.) The inability to reassess the royal identity during times of crises could very well mean the end of the monarchy. One can look to the likes of Charles I of England, Louis XVI of France, Alfonso XIII of Spain, Farouk of Egypt, Mohammed Reza Shah of Iran and many others whose resistance was met with their royal bums removed from the throne. And, for the very few, their heads as well.
As I chronicle my own journey, I am realizing there's a lot of work in being a modern-day queen. The 'art' of majesty includes a variety of elements: understanding royal etiquette, taking up royal causes, maintaining a royal diet, finding prince charming and, of course, perfecting a royal wardrobe. Once reserved for gilded palaces centuries ago, kings and queens must now perform the customs and rituals of monarchy in a variety of public spaces today. They also have to balance their ancient traditions with the harsh realities of modernity. In a forever-changing society, how do these anachronistic practices and institutions stay relevant in an otherwise democratic society? After all, anyone can act like a queen.
But not everyone can behave like a royal.