With Queen Elizabeth’s 92nd birthday approaching in April, and Prince Philip’s decision to retire this past fall, it seems many in England are beginning to contemplate the queen’s death. Last year, The Guardian published a detailed article outlining “the secret plans for the days after the Queen’s death” following a health scare that had newspapers speculating that Her Majesty’s death was imminent. At the moment, Elizabeth II seems to be in good health, but that hasn’t stopped people from beginning to plan for the inevitable.
For advertisers, the death of England’s monarch will be a particularly tricky situation. In a recent article in England’s The Drum, Katie Deighton outlines the etiquette minefield British advertisers will have to navigate in the days directly following the Queen’s demise. The problem seems to be that in our current social media age brands want to be seen as having “a genuine human connection with their consumers” without seeming to capitalize on the tragedy (as Tamara Littleton, chief executive and founder of social media agency The Social Element, explained to Deighton).
It’s a touchy subject because… well… the queen’s not dead yet. She’s not even sick. But, just as the government already has plans in place for the eventuality of Elizabeth’s death, it makes sense for other public entities to also be prepared. As Deighton points out, it’s particularly difficult for advertisers because — since they don’t know when exactly it will happen — they don’t know which ads will be running at the time and whether they will feature elements that strike the wrong chord.
Companies that have to be even more careful than others are those holding a “Royal Warrant.” Royal Warrant holders are companies that have “supplied goods or services to the Households of HM The Queen, HRH The Duke of Edinburgh or HRH The Prince of Wales for at least five years, and who have an ongoing trading arrangement.” These companies, in particular, must be careful to set the right tone, perhaps even closing their stores for a period of time to show respect for the monarch’s passing.
If companies sitting around planning for the death of someone who isn’t even dying sounds macabre, it is. But it’s also necessary. How advertisers handle the death of a celebrity can have a huge impact on their brand. Deighton uses the death of music legend Prince as an example. While many companies struck just the right note by turning their logos purple on social media, Cheerios experienced backlash for tweeting “Rest in peace” with a Cheerio for the dot of the” i” because they were seen as “profiting from death.”
It’s hard for us in America to grasp how big a deal Elizabeth’s death will be. She has been queen for 65 years, making her England’s longest-reigning monarch and, for most of her subjects, the only monarch they’ve ever known. Not to mention that she is beloved by her people, the vast majority of whom believe strongly in the monarchy as an institution.
The issue is further complicated by the fact that Elizabeth’s successor, Prince Charles, is nowhere near as popular. In fact, according to a 2017 poll, he is the most hated member of the royal family! All this means that the country’s mourning over Elizabeth’s death — and their sense of unease at Charles’ ascension — will be all the more intense. A misstep from advertisers could severely hurt their brand.
What will actually happen remains to be seen. But you can bet that companies are planning — albeit surreptitiously — for the queen’s inevitable death. For now, though, Elizabeth is well-loved and going strong. Long live the Queen!