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The "I dos" and don'ts of Royal marketing and merchandise

17 May 2018. Published by Anna Greco, Senior Associate

While most Royal subjects prepare the bunting and the sandwiches, many businesses will be looking for ways to capitalise on the hype and goodwill generated around the occasion. But how can brands ensure that they don't crash the wedding?

We have already seen that Royal weddings are a big industry – with the Royal brand valued at around £60bn, it's no wonder that businesses are keen for a slice of the (wedding) cake. And although the event looks to be more inclusive and progressive than ever, that doesn't mean that marketers will have free rei(g)n to use the names and likenesses of Britain’s sweethearts to exploit the celebration.

Advertising and Mark(l)eting

A Royal wedding carries huge potential for themed advertising, social media and promotional campaigns. Whilst it may be tempting for businesses to take advantage of the event as their latest marketing ploy, they do so at their peril – those friendly Royal faces (and their titles, arms and emblems) are protected by a number of laws and codes.

The Advertising Standards Authority has pre-emptively issued specific guidance on the topic – the upshot being that, generally speaking, members of the Royal Family should not be shown or mentioned in any marketing communications without their prior permission (as Ryanair, among others, have learned).

The Royals may have a cause of action against any rogue marketing under the tort of passing off, although it is perhaps unlikely that they would enforce it on every occasion. Given their elevated status, they also have specific legislative protections – not only does the Trade Marks Act outline that unauthorised business use of Royal insignia or titles is a criminal offence, the Trade Descriptions Act further states that brands must not give false indications that their products or services are supplied to or approved by the Royals.

To top it off, featuring the happy couple in marketing may also have some implications under copyright law. Unless you happen to have snapped the perfect shot from the crowd, any images will need to be properly licensed, and commercial use may be restricted. An official wedding photographer has been hired, and copyright will be held by Kensington Palace – which means no commercial use of the official engagement photographs (and, presumably, the official wedding photographs).

The key take-away is this: anything that falsely implies endorsement by the Royal Family is about as permissible as touching the Queen herself. So while very general references to the wedding, congratulatory messages or expressions of good wishes may be acceptable, marketers should not claim or imply that a product or service is either endorsed or affiliated with the Royal Family or Royal events, unless they really are. As that's about as likely as Her Majesty parachuting into a major sporting event (again), over the coming days we can expect to see a number of oblique references, with businesses doing just enough to trade off the mood without crossing the line.

Suit(s)able souvenirs

Royal memorabilia has somehow come to hold a special place in British culture. What better way to start the wedding day than by tucking in to a bowl of £40 Harry and Meghan cereal? Do you need a Pez dispenser to commemorate the special occasion? Of course you do. And you're the reason that the last Royal wedding generated a whopping £222m in souvenir sales alone. While there's clearly no accounting for taste, there are some restrictions as to what should and shouldn't feature on those treasured items.

In preparation for the wedding, the Royal Household has issued a set of guidelines relaxing the normal restrictions which apply to memorabilia and souvenirs. Essentially, approved photographs of the couple, approved phrases (e.g. ‘To Commemorate the Marriage of HRH Prince Henry of Wales and Ms Meghan Markle, 19 May 2018’) and the Prince's coat of arms can be used on products which:

  • are in good taste;
  • are free from any form of advertisement; and
  • carry no implication of Royal custom or approval.

There are, of course, some restrictions; while you can't slap the happy couple's mugs on a novelty T-shirt, you can slap it on… well, mugs.

Royal treatment

As if the Royal wedding didn't already provide enough entertainment, we now get to spend the next few days buying knick-knacks we don't need, all while watching brands compete for the most creative, and the most subtle, reference to Harry and Meghan's big day. For what it's worth, my money's on H&M (who, with their initials, have been handed a marketing opportunity on a silver platter) – but we’ll have to wait and see whose campaign will Rule Britannia. Either way, we can all look forward to our favourite brands giving their marketing a bit of the royal treatment.