Royal wedding newsjackers have no doubt been a royal pain in the ass to the Kensington Palace press office ever since Prince Charles tweeted the news of His Royal Highness Prince Henry’s engagement to American actress Meghan Markle last November.
As an impassioned publicist for many blue-chip consumer and pop culture brands myself, I practice David Meerman Scott’s ingenious newsjacking technique of inserting my clients’ message into relevant trending news stories whenever appropriate. Emphasis on the words “relevant” and “appropriate.” (Truth be told, this PR strategy existed long before Scott coined his catchy phrase in 2011; the difference now is it’s done in real time, usually via social media channels.)
But royal wedding newsjackers took the concept to a different—and often distasteful—level with their obnoxious product tie-ins. Here’s looking at you Chili’s, Dunkin Donuts, and Campbell’s Soup. I hope you’re proud of yourselves. Although your ties to the happy couple were a huge stretch, you all managed to garner worldwide coverage for your brands. But did it translate into product sales?
Speaking of sales, I guess technically it’s no longer considered newsjacking when it involves peddling merchandise. Does anyone out there have a better marketing term for it? Some kind of mash-up using the word “opportunism” perhaps? And what about copyrights, and excuse the pun, “royalties” of the monetary kind? Did the Royal Family get a cut of the action? Somehow I doubt it, but please weigh in under the comments, if you know.
Back to publicity tactics for a minute. I have mixed feelings about the way the Royal Household handled coverage of the nuptials. On one side of the commemorative coin, they did a great job at message consistency by keeping their press releases short and their assortment of photo options limited.
However, because their communication was so tightly controlled, it forced journalists to look elsewhere to boost ratings and readerships—leaving clever royal wedding newsjackers with plenty of great opportunities to fill in the gaps. After all, more than 5,000 media outlets descended on the city of Windsor last week and they had to report on something to justify their travel expenses. Ditto for the US press left behind who felt pressure to keep all eyes on them instead of across the pond.
Below are some of the ways they did:
Blood Doesn’t Always Run Thicker
Let’s start with the father of the bride, Thomas Markle. As we all know, he was exposed for selling photos of himself prepping for the wedding to the tabloids. But come on. Didn’t the newly dubbed Duke and Duchess’ PR teams think to media train him and other members of her clan before the circus started? Whether he did it for the money or not, he was vulnerable, and the paparazzi took advantage of it. Next is half-sister, Samantha Markle. She’s trying to cash in on her sibling’s fame with a book entitled “The Diary of Princess Pushy.” Good for you, Piers Morgan for calling her out for the vulture she is!
The Experts Hold Court
Then there are all the royal experts who came out of nowhere. From the wedding planners showing us how to create our own home viewing party to the authors hawking their latest books about the British monarchy, they were out in full force. As a viewer/reader, it was a challenge to not only keep up but also difficult to distinguish the fakes from the originals. It gave me a new appreciation for the former royal staff members and legitimate royal correspondents who have real-world experience to contribute to the conversation.
Big Brands Reign Supreme
Not surprisingly, the brands with the biggest marketing machines turned into the best and worst royal wedding newsjackers. While I could waste the last bit of my word count critiquing all the bad examples, I’d rather give you a fairy tale ending—in honor of the one we just witnessed between Harry and Meghan. So here are a few of the ones that got it right:
Tostitos: At first, you might be thinking, what does a beloved Hispanic-themed brand have in common with a wedding taking place in a country with very few good Mexican restaurants? And do we really need the recipe for a six-tiered cake created with 72 jars of dips in 42 layers and decorated with chips, tomatoes and guacamole—topped with a queso-carved bride and groom? But here’s the beauty: Before her career-making Suits gig, the Duchess of Sussex starred in national Tostitos TV commercials. Muy Bueno!
Lego: Through the creation of elaborate mini-brick yet large-scale replicas, this iconic Danish toymaker has brilliantly newsjacked such IRL pop culture moments as the 2016 Rio De Janeiro Olympics to Wonder Woman’s 2017 film release. So, it’s only fitting that they would unveil their own detailed 39,960 brick version of the Royal Wedding at Windsor Castle in their Legoland Windsor Castle Resort—a stone’s throw away from where the real festivities took place. Although the majority of the coverage they got for this latest publicity stunt was positive, TMZ did run a negative story about how they whitewashed Meghan’s bi-racial skin tone. And I kid you not, they claim it’s because they ran out of brown bricks! Seriously? Regardless, the resort still sold out last weekend.
The Smithsonian Channel et al: Given my stint at Turner Broadcasting, I’m always amused by all the crafty, creative ways TV producers dream up to dovetail into tent-pole events. As expected, they turned out to be some of the best royal wedding newsjackers of all. I’m not talking about 20/20 or The Today Show’s themed news coverage to mark the occasion. I’m referring to the original programming produced, such as the Smithsonian Channel or TLC documentaries, and even better, HBO’s hilarious Cord and Tish send-up starring Will Ferrell and Molly Shannon. Granted, Lifetime may have gone too far with its over-the-top “Harry and Meghan: A Royal Romance” telefilm, but hey, the special even inspired two actual wedding guests to wear a Nordstrom dress featured in it.
Now that the hoopla and hype out of Windsor is over (thank God!), it makes me wonder what’s next on the brand newsjacking calendar. What are your favorite picks?