AAs the nation transforms into a gigantic regal theme park for the Platinum Jubilee, I’m busy fending off calls for me to play bogeyman on live television. Right-wing show producers are hoping I could come on air and do Queen-bashing on demand. “Would you be interested in debating whether the flags are racist,” one asked, “since Twitter users compared the nationwide display of flags to Nazi Germany in the 1960s. 1930?”
No doubt they’ll find someone else willing to play the bad guy. Personally, I find attending a platinum jubilee to be very educational as it is an absolute masterclass in branding. You can see it in all the shops: from bottles of Heinz salad cream (renamed “Salad Queen” for the occasion) to lipstick (Estée Lauder “Queen for the Day”) to crisps (Walker’s Sensations Thai sweet chilli, jubilee edition) and even toys (Aldi is bringing back a stuffed Kevin the carrot toy disguised as Her Majesty). Those who work in marketing for other brands shouldn’t be too hard on themselves, it’s not exactly a level playing field when it comes to the British monarchyMT – no other brand has its own press corps, which generally sees its role as one of sycophancy.
And what user review could ever, in this feedback economy of ours, dream of competing with that unique seal of approval in three words: by Royal Appointment. If your soft drink, bed linen, sausages or breakfast cereals are liked by the Queen or the Prince of Wales, you can join one of the more than 800 companies whose royal warrants allow them to strike this coat of arms. non-quantifiably legitimizing their packaging.
It is legitimizing by what the royal mark represents: continuity, nostalgia, the absence of change. As former Guardian royal correspondent Stephen Bates put it in his book Royalty Inc, members of the royal family “form a kind of backbone on which the rest of our history hangs”. It’s a win-win brand message – the more the monarchy becomes anachronistic and at odds with modern values (it’s one of the few remaining in democratic countries and by far the best known), the more profound this message .
There may have been a time when the royal family was synonymous with imperial expansion (Queen Victoria), pioneering innovation (Queen Elizabeth I) or aggressive military conquest (Henry V). But, unable to offer anything like it in this era of globalized, technology-driven superpower, the monarchy has wisely allied itself with the idea of privilege in an age of meritocracy and the absence of change. at a time when change is happening with rapidity.
Exceptional individuals who capture the spirit of innovation, creativity or progression are smartly co-opted by the royal brand, proving surprisingly easy to woo with OBEs and other honours.
The jubilee reminds us that there is serious strategy at work here. The monarchy has to be seen to be believed, as the Queen is known to say. But where the Archbishop of Canterbury tweets, and even the Pope speaks to reporters, the Queen must be the only person on the planet who cannot be interviewed. Its ubiquity works differently, attaching itself to people’s ideas of their own cultural identity.
To do this, whether the royal family likes it or not, they must meet the nation where they are. Jubilee celebrations are like a mirror framed by streamers, bringing us back to ourselves. At the time of the Queen’s coronation 70 years ago, children had a choice of a number of items, including a Bible; a book about the Queen by Richard Dimbleby, a spoon and fork, and a dish bearing a portrait of the Queen. I wasn’t alive at the time to see how it turned out, but I’m sure no one would bother trying to impress the TikTok/Roblox generation with official-looking cutlery today. today.
The Platinum Jubilee is about who we are now, who is obsessed with consumerism, spending money that we largely don’t have on credit. It is estimated that Britons will spend nearly £1billion to celebrate the bank holiday weekend, despite rapidly mounting economic pressure.
We lack productivity – four-day weekend, anyone? – big on poor quality food, and very, very fond of alcoholic beverages. These are offered in packaging on the theme of the jubilee to suit all budgets and all horizons. There’s the limited edition Moët & Chandon pink jubilee from Waitrose, queen’s corgi-themed beer cans from Aldi, a repackaged version of Lambrini as Lamqueeni and a jubilee bottle of Adnams gin.
If brands had been tempted to promote anti-monarchy sentiment, Jubilee neutralized it by making Jubilee celebration marketing a chance to sell more products. And more importantly, by making Jubilee celebrations the cultural norm. It’s not about being pro-royalist, an advertising expert told the Wall Street Journal this week, it’s about being part of the ‘national conversation’.
I’m not entirely sure what this “conversation” is. Would you like some platinum jubilee themed sweet chilli crisps with your platinum jubilee themed gin and tonic? Does your child dream of a jubilee-themed plush toy in the shape of an anthropomorphic carrot disguised as a Queen?
There is certainly room for thoughtful discussion. Isn’t it fascinating that the Queen’s first official act, replacing her father in 1943 during a trip to North Africa, was to countersign a death warrant. How is it that after a long reign of moving towards more progressive criminal policy, we seem to have come full circle again with right-wing political support for the death penalty?
And how do we get to a point in 2022 where the official jubilee dessert is made with ingredients like gelatin, making it off limits to Muslims, vegans, vegetarians and potentially Jews, as is the so-called Platinum Pudding? Animal welfare group Peta described the Lemon Amaretti Trifle as an “offbeat dessert” that “would be more appropriate for Henry VIII’s medieval table than a modern-day royal celebration”.
And that’s exactly the point. Let’s not try to pretend that the jubilee is a conversation when it is in fact a tool of social conditioning by the only means that really works in contemporary times: mass consumption and work stoppages. As this weekend reveals, the Queen of England probably remains the most famous non-commercial brand in the world.
Personally, I find it quite liberating – and authentic. The royal mark is not one that resonates with me. For reasons I’ve elaborated on in many other columns—simply because it celebrates itself at the expense of others—the standard bearer tribe is not mine. And I wonder what the pure of faith, who sincerely believe in the monarchy, with all its supposed divine connotations, think that it is reduced to a gimmick on crusty packages.
But the reality is that we live in the age of branding. And when it comes to making no apologies for what you stand for – even if it seems at odds with just about everything else – this Platinum Jubilee Festival is an intense and daring masterclass.