The Royal Baby: Sycophancy on an industrial scale, slick marketing, or both?

He’s here. As if you didn’t know. George Alexander Louis, also known as the Royal Baby, has arrived to swell the ranks of Britons surviving on state benefits. He entered the world last week to be swept up by a tidal wave of frenzied social media activity. One must have been most gratified at the interest, cementing the brand as it did.

As the birth was announced, over a quarter of all Facebook users apparently hurled themselves into online mithering about the news (one can’t imagine what was said. As the latest edition of satirical magazine Private Eye rather neatly puts it, “Woman has Baby” pretty much sums up the key points of the story.) Mentions of #theroyalbaby on the global Twitter feed soared from a mere 107 in April to a majestic 956,194 in July. Apparently, over 75% of Twitter users were exposed to a mention of the Royal arrival on its delivery day. And this maelstrom of activity shows no sign of abating anytime soon, as the Twitter account @BritishMonarchy creeps up to over 560,000 followers. Including, regrettably, the mother-in-law.

While Twitter is bursting at the seams with its royal baby push (two puns intended), commercial enterprises left, right, and centre are jumping on the baby-wagon. (Well, maybe right, right, and center, anyway.) Some are taking already-existing marketing campaigns one-step further. For instance, Coca Cola extended its popular ‘Share a Coke’ programme by releasing a press ad reading: ‘Time for a Royal Celebration’ and featuring two bottles labelled “Wills” and “Kate”. UK baker Warbutons ran an advert with a bun in the oven (subtle, eh?), bearing the headline ‘One’s bun is done.’ Johnson and Johnson’s advert on Facebook featured an image of a baby in a bathtub with a crown made of bubbles accompanied by the legend: ‘Congratulations to the Royal couple on their brilliant news’. One must have been delighted.

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This type of near real-time or ‘improv’ marketing as it’s becoming known, is interesting. Oreo used the approach to great advantage during the Super Bowl blackout. As soon as the lights went out in the Superdome, the Oreo ad team tweeted a cookie on a light black background and the text: ‘You can still dunk in the dark’ (which is more than the local New Orleans basketball team’s been able to do in recent seasons). Their creative paid off as the effort was re-tweeted by thousands and praised by many including The Wall Street Journal’s Speakeasy blog.

While the opportunist approach deserved the praise it received in Oreo’s case, the Royal birth-related Real-time equivalents have been less ingenious. Yes, the tweet ‘Long live the crème’ by Oreo and the photo of take-away coffee cups adorned with crowns by Starbucks sparked interest among the Twitterati but, let’s face it, these companies had 9 months to do their worst and you might have expected something better.

And even with the long lead-time, some companies still managed to get it absolutely wrong. Nintendo took a fifty-fifty chance by launching a marketing campaign based around a princess and we all know where that bet ended up. Still, even knowing the gender of the baby isn’t enough to ensure success as Lego proved when it tried to create a royal baby Lego figure, which, needless to say, wasn’t very easy on the eye. And apparently its hand couldn’t be shifted from the “held out” position either.

Don Williams, chief creative officer at branding consultancy PI Global, has offered a word of warning to companies to stop them making such disastrous marketing falls. He says:  “A marketer’s job is to sell brands and sometime a tactical opportunity presents them with a short window that is too good to miss. If a brand tries to somehow link itself in a less tongue in cheek way to the event, or its brand personality is so far removed from a Royal celebration, then the credibility of that brand may suffer”.

Wow, Don, how shrewd is that? This observation falls into what Monty Python would have categorised as “the bleeding obvious”, and implies that the market for really original marketing insight is today in a parlous state.

What we think would really be fun would be for B2B companies to buck the trend and dare to tread where the consumer brands above have sometimes failed but tried routinely to exploit an opportunity anyway. With 5thPositions enterprise client pedigree in mind, can we have a bit of fun in suggesting the following Tweets?:

For the communications industry Network Equipment Provider: @royalbaby: intelligent network urgently required

For the financial services industry firm: @royalbaby: our lack of interest is a matter of being consistent

For the enterprise software vendor: @royalbaby: it’s h-a-d-o-o-p, actually…

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