Marketing the Queen: brands face a Diamond Jubilee balancing act

The marketers seeking brand sponsors and partners for events to market the Queen's Diamond Jubilee have much to consider, write Rachel Barnes and Matt Chapman.

Marketing the Queen: brands face a Diamond Jubilee balancing act

There are tough clients and there are tough clients; then there's the Queen. The marketing of the centrepiece of her Diamond Jubilee celebration - a 1000-strong flotilla sailing down the Thames this summer - has to be one of the most challenging jobs in the industry.

'This is an opportunity for brands to show some of their appreciation of the benefits of the 60-year reign of Her Majesty the Queen,' explains Phil Smith, whose job it is, as commercial director of the Thames Diamond Jubilee Foundation, to secure corporate sponsorship and market the event.

Click here for Q&A with Phil Smith, the Queen's marketer

Click here for the US view on the Diamond Jubilee

However, his role is made more complex by the fact there is a moratorium on any branding either on the boats or alongside the Thames, where organisers expect up to 2m spectators to watch in person on 3 June.

Smith must balance the selling of the event to help raise the £10m needed to fund it, without, at any cost, selling out the Queen. 'You have a very high degree of public interest to capitalise on, and on top of that a great degree of positive feeling,' he adds.

Land-based activity

In addition, Smith's remit extends to land-based activity, with a Vintage Festival to be held at Battersea Park, playing on the theme of the Queen's 60-year reign. Here, at least, brands will be able to shout about their sponsorship. Sainsbury's, a key sponsor, is also organising the Hyde Park Festival and supporting the lighting of thousands of beacons on 4 June.

While Smith acknowledges that a lot of brands have said 'the Olympics are the thing that is very firmly in their sights', he believes about 15 brands will be involved in the Jubilee events. Importantly, these are the 'right' brands, which have a good fit with the event - and the Queen.

Abbott Mead Vickers BBDO has been working with Smith since last year to create the design for all the marketing materials and experiential activity. The ad agency's chief executive, Ian Pearman, hints that this will include something on the day that people can physically wear - 'although not a giant waving hand', he adds.

Pressure of history

Pearman agrees that Smith's role is undoubtedly challenging. 'You feel that pressure when you are working for an event that will become part of royal history,' he explains. 'Phil is our client, but he has the ultimate client, the Queen. It is unusual for all of us to be able to create something that will be seen by such an unrivalled audience.'

The agency approached the work as it would a project for any other client. The central thinking was based on the need to balance the tradition of the pageantry and occasion with a modern feel that people expect from communications today.

'Like any client, at the start we identified the priority, which was to not get bogged down in the stuffy traditions, but re-interpret them for the current generation,' adds Pearman. 'I suppose the big difference with this client is that a bad job (might not) get you fired, but beheaded.'


Phil Smith, commercial director, Thames Diamond Jubilee Foundation

Smith on the challenge of 'competing' with the Olympics

Smith on the pressure of having the Queen as a client

What are the sensitivities involved in marketing the Queen's big day?

This isn't an ordinary opportunity for sponsorship. It has to be handled with decorum and taste, as well as sensibility. It won't be a question of a brand extravaganza on the river by festooning boats with brand names. There is an opportunity for brands prepared to operate in the spirit of what we are trying to achieve to take the message to London and the nation. The overwhelming majority of brand-owners we have talked to appreciate that this is a national event with historic significance and that brands must behave with sensitivity.

So, will any branding be allowed?

On the river, it is something we are keen to preserve as a tasteful event, so it's not the plan that any of the boats carry temporary branding of a commercial sort. However, charities closely associated with Her Majesty's reign (will be able) to take part and show support.

There is an opportunity for brand recognition through the 50 giant screens we will erect along the route. The sensitivity is around the procession, where there will be a moratorium (on commercial branding).

Brands' support and contribution can be recognised overtly in other ways, for example on our website and in our marketing collateral. Brands will feature and be highly visible in our Vintage Festival in Battersea Park. Brand-owners can be given opportunities for their customers or colleagues to participate in the pageant, and we would encourage brand partners to use our logo in their own communication and promotional programmes to forge an association with the pageant.

Is there a risk that the Queen, and the event, could be seen to be over-commercialised?

This isn't a worry as we have entered brand discussions on a very clear basis for what we were trying to achieve. We have been talking to the right types of brand, as well - those with a history and association with Britain and its people going back over the period in question.

What is the selling point to brands?

The event itself is unique, historic and going to attract a very high level of interest internationally. The TV audience for (last year's) royal wedding broke several records and internationally was somewhere between the audited 300m figure and the 2bn reported in the press. It's certainly going to be in that order of magnitude, if not bigger.

Do you fear the Jubilee could be overshadowed by the Olympics?

I don't think it is a question of a competition, as one is six weeks before the other and both are fantastic opportunities for London to show itself at its best.

The Olympics comes around every four years. It is in London this time, but the Diamond Jubilee is something that is not going to happen again in our lifetime, or even at all. We want to maintain a good relationship with LOCOG to ensure we don't end up tripping up over each other.

How close are you to achieving your target?

In total, the cost of the pageant is expected to be in the order of £10m. That will be funded from several sources - corporate partnerships as well as donations - so it is not all coming from purely commercial relationships.

The ink is not dry yet, otherwise we would be in a position to talk about all the brands involved, but the event is clearly going ahead. We would not be sitting here now if we were not confident in having the funding.

How much pressure are you under with the Queen as your client?

Without playing down the importance of Buckingham Palace, it is the nation, Commonwealth and the worldwide audience that will be our 'clients' on the day. I am not marketing Her Majesty The Queen. (We are) in dialogue with Buckingham Palace to ensure our plans are appropriate.

It is very exciting, though, and that brings its own pressures - especially as we are becoming busier with the deadline looming. The plans in place are robust, so I have every confidence it is going to be a significant and truly historic event. Knowing this adds to the sense of urgency and excitement and to a strong desire to do it right.

Back to top

EXPERT VIEW: The tourism perspective

Arnie Weissmann, vice-president, editor-in-chief, Travel Weekly

To my fellow Americans, the Queen's Diamond Jubilee is perhaps something akin to what a US presidential inauguration must be to Brits. They are similar in the sense that the associated pageantry is interesting to watch if you happen to be in the neighbourhood, but it's unlikely that you would cross an ocean to see it.

I understand that the question of commercialisation of the Queen's flotilla has raised some controversy in the UK. True, someone has to pay for the pageantry, but I can appreciate that it might be too much to ask of British subjects that their monarch be 'brought to you by McDonald's'.

Then again, as a computer programmer I know likes to say: 'It's not a bug, it's a feature.' Perhaps VisitBritain can lure a few Americans over for the Jubilee if it emphasises the commercialisation.

We will risk bursting our bladders rather than rise from the sofa during our Super Bowl for fear that we'll miss the over-the-top commercials that premiere during the game. So, Americans might just cross the pond to see how Budweiser would exploit the opportunity to be 'the official light beer of the Queen's Diamond Jubilee'.

Back to top