With the royal wedding of Prince Harry and Meghan Markle a mere two weeks away, U.S. brands are clamoring to join the festivities. However, some should keep calm and carry on – specifically for campaigns that don’t mind the gap between a brand and an authentic connection to the May 19 nuptials, experts warn.
Lisa Rosenberg, Allison+Partners’ chief creative officer and co-chair of the firm’s consumer marketing practice, says brands that want to celebrate the event should "tread lightly."
"If brands have no real connection to the event, it looks like they are jumping on a bandwagon," she says. "If it doesn’t feel authentic to who the brand is and what the royal family stands for, it feels gratuitous and falls flat."
One unexpected brand getting in on the jolly good fun is Hidden Valley Ranch, which gave its bottle a "makeover fit for a princess," according to a statement. The brand had an unnamed A-list celebrity jeweler design one ornate $35,000 jewel-encrusted bottle of dressing that will be gifted to a winner via social media in the weeks after the wedding.
Hidden Valley created the special bottle to honor Markle, a "fellow famous American, and remind her of the familiar flavors of her home country as she resides as royalty across the pond," according to a statement from the brand.
However, Rosenberg is befuddled by Hidden Valley’s campaign.
"Why? I don’t get the connection of Hidden Valley dressing," she says. "Is that [Markle’s] dressing of choice?"
Hidden Valley might get publicity for giving away something "weird" of great value, but the campaign won’t do much for the brand long-term, says Rosenberg.
"You can use something like a royal wedding to take advantage of a moment in time with pop culture to generate some quick media hits or social coverage for your brand," she says. "But in terms of true brand value, this campaign will not be lasting."
Lisa Dini, EVP of client experience at Current, worked with Hidden Valley on the campaign. She explains that the brand chose to do a royal wedding campaign because Hidden Valley is "America’s king of condiments, so there is a royal tie there."
She adds that Markle is "making a great pairing, which Hidden Valley does as well."
To cut through the noise of other royal wedding campaigns, Hidden Valley decided to kick its contest off early, on March 10, National Ranch Day. The campaign has been covered by Today.com, USA Today, and the Daily Mail.
Strongbow Hard Ciders, meanwhile, launched a brand campaign that taps into its 125-year British lineage and its coveted royal warrant. The brand is inviting Americans to raise a glass and toast the royal wedding with its new Rosé Apple Hard Cider. Strongbow also created limited edition Royal Rose Teacup Sets in partnership with British designer Stanley Chow.
The cider brand is playing on its British heritage and credibility with its U.S.-focused royal wedding campaign. Rosé Apple is also a product developed specifically for the U.S. market, so a major British occasion seemed like the most natural way to introduce the drink to Americans, explains Strongbow brand director Eric Markus.
"Everyone is so interested and fascinated by this story: a British prince marrying an American," he says. "It is the best of British and American culture meeting up together, and our Rosé Apple Hard Cider is emblematic of that, a marriage of British heritage and American taste."
Markus adds that Strongbow is using its campaign to participate in the cultural conversation about the wedding and make the event more interesting, festive, and "authentically British" for Americans.
Rosenberg says Strongbow is "trying too hard" with its royal wedding campaign.
"I like the notion of a toast; [Strongbow’s] a British brand and a toast is a celebratory, natural, authentic thing you do when people get married," she says. "But I would have stopped short of the teacup partnership. That took it too far."
She explains a teacup filled with brew "feels wrong," and questions why the brand didn’t go with something more appropriate from which to drink cider.
Rosenberg advises that Strongbow should have hosted royal wedding watch parties and done toasts in bars across the country where the product is served.
"That would have been so on-brand for who they are and connect to the wedding, would have been the news hook they were looking for, and could have had lasting lift for the brand because maybe that becomes brew of choice for other weddings," she says. "Or it could be used as a longer-term positioning about Strongbow being all about special celebrations and part of people’s toasts."
Another brand celebrating the royals is Omni Berkshire Place in New York City. The hotel is offering a room service high tea experience, complete with a butler rolling a cart piled with an assortment of tea, finger sandwiches, and pastries into guests’ rooms. Hotel guests can also order a royal viewing party breakfast to their room, which includes a mimosa flight and full English breakfast.
Omni Berkshire Place’s director of sales and marketing, Sean Lynch, who himself is a Brit, says the campaign was inspired by guests who asked how they could view the wedding. The hotel is forecasting to sell out both the Friday and Saturday of the wedding weekend, and has seen a 3% increase in bookings over the same time period last year.
"We have a large number of British guests, so we want them to enjoy the experience [of the wedding] and then still go out and experience New York," he says.
A boffo royal wedding brand campaign, Lynch adds, must include something that has "an upscale and authentic experience that has a touch of luxury."
Rosenberg says Omni’s idea is "good and fun" but says the campaign should have been implemented in all Omni locations.
"By doing this just at the New York location, it’s probably a small audience," she says. "They could have changed the guest experience for the better. Where Strongbow went too far, Omni stopped a little short."
Asked to dissect the allure of the royal wedding, particularly for an American audience, Rosenberg puts it down to the "charismatic" Prince Harry, the desire for a feel-good event amid the political environment, and the increased fascination with British TV shows and films such as The Royals, The Crown, and Darkest Hour.
"Think of all the entertainment properties bringing to life the role of the crown and the royal family in British society," she says. "There is a big market for people fascinated with that period of time in history. So we are seeing this come full circle in a positive sense."
Lynch adds that a royal wedding marks a unifying pop culture moment. There are no politics involved, it’s a romantic story, it brings the U.S. and U.K. together, and it involves some drama and pageantry.
"It is fun to create an event around it that everyone can get behind and cheer for," he says.