As with many topics of national debate, Britain seems firmly divided on the whole Meghan and Harry thing. Most Brits — or at least most of the news stories published on the topic — seem to be in one of two opposing camps.
According to one camp, ever since her arrival on our shores, the British tabloid press have been utterly toxic and unfair towards Meghan. They’ve displayed clear prejudice in how they’ve treated her, particularly when compared to Kate Middleton. Sadly, they’ve forced Meghan and Harry back to America to create a new life for their family.
According to the other camp, Meghan hasn’t been treated unfairly at all. The British press are mean to everyone (just look at Diana). And anyway, Meghan always had plans to come to Britain, bag herself a prince, a royal title, and then dump her duties for Queen and country, and head back to California to pursue a far easier and more glamorous celebrity lifestyle. “And it will all end in tears for Harry, just you wait and see.”
Well, for what it’s worth, like many debates, I’m sure the truth likely lies somewhere in the middle. The tabloids have certainly run some very negative, seemingly unfair stories about Meghan. And as has been widely compared and shared on social media, stories about Kate Middleton on the exact same subjects (from pregnancy to avocados) were written utterly differently, in a positive way.
On the other hand, I believe it’s also fair to point out that when it comes to the couple’s statements about climate change and their desire to lead a private life, there do seem to have been some hypocritical decisions, mainly involving private jets and publicity opportunities. And we know how much certain areas of the press love to focus on these.
However, for Britain, I believe the debate we seem to be continually having completely misses the most important point.
Meghan and Harry had the potential to become Britain’s greatest branded asset as the decade unfolded, and for whatever reason, we, or they, or perhaps all of us, have screwed it up. Royally.
In the world of investment, tourism, global standing and influence, Britain is a brand. And whatever your views are on the monarchy and unelected heads of state, Brand Britain’s greatest asset is, arguably, the royal family. It’s a clear USP for Britain that continues to fascinate the world and attract their attention.When Prince William married Kate Middleton, VisitBritain reported that more than two billion people watched the ceremony around the world. They also suggested that the “value to Brand Britain” due to the global media coverage was approximately £1 billion. Not a bad investment.
From palaces and castles, the Trooping of the Colour, weddings and Diamond Jubilees, the pomp and pageantry of British royalty is unique to Britain and seems to fascinate people throughout the world. It’s no surprise thatThe Crown, which dominated Sunday’s Golden Globes, is Netflix’s most viewed show worldwide.
Butpomp and pageantry are traditions that don’t tend to evolve much. And while The Crown looks back at history, the royal family needs to continue developing its own image to further serve the wider brand of modern Britain. Perhaps it’s an unfair observation, but William and Kate — who both seem incredibly decent people — appear to further amplify the royal family traditions, rather than modernising it. Harry has always felt like the wild card, and in marrying Meghan Markle, he introduced a genuine star into the mix.
They are an utterly different asset.
On paper, as a couple, Meghan and Harry seemed to be the perfect force to transform the Royal family’s brand into the modern era. A highly personable couple, they are two people who seem incredibly natural in front of cameras and when meeting new people. As an interracial and intercultural couple, it was hoped that their introduction of diversity to the royal family could have genuinely helped to tackle the prejudice and stereotypes that still sadly exist in our country.
Alas, that opportunity for the royal family’s brand — and more importantly, for Brand Britain — has been missed.
Instead of being interviewed by James Corden and Oprah Winfrey on behalf of Britain, they are now building their own independent brand. Instead of creating new positivity around Brand Britain through Spotify and Netflix partnerships, engaging with a younger global audience, they are now doing this for themselves. Instead of visiting schools, businesses, hospitals and charities, and injecting a modern, youthful, positive energy into Britain, they are in California, negotiating corporate appearance fees.
The royal family’s image and popularity would have been greatly strengthened by a modern and positive couple, who were able to talk to a different audience in a different way. This, in turn, would have hugely benefited Britain’s image around the world. Meghan and Harry were a priceless branded asset for our country, and as marketers know too well, branded assets are not easy to come by. Once you have them, you must work incredibly hard to protect them and their longevity. Tragically for Britain, we haven’t been able to do this.
Oprah’s gain is absolutely Brand Britain’s loss.
Jamie Williams is managing partner at the independent creative agency Isobel