Content is king, in #marketingspeak at least, but many brands discovered last week that the Queen is not content.
In the tumult of reaction to news of the Queen’s death, social media managers struggled to work out the best way to communicate to their customers.
Was it an opportunity to provide a sombre and respectful acknowledgement of her reign? Or was it just an opportunity?
Dale Vince, the founder of the electricity company Ecotricity and chairman of Forest Green Rovers, tweeted a picture of the Queen mocked up to be wearing a green hat and green club shirt, with the words “Thanks Liz”.
The post provoked hundreds of complaints in reply, to which he responded that he had met the Queen while collecting his OBE. “She was wearing a green dress and we talked about green energy and stuff,” he said. “It was a funny experience, and she had a good sense of humour – unlike some here.”
For commercial organisations, there is a fine line to walk between crass and class. Saying nothing may appear disrespectful, but as customers have become more sophisticated consumers of media, even well-intentioned messages can look like self-promotion.
Friday’s printed newspapers were almost entirely ad-free after advertisers pulled out on news of the Queen’s death, and there is little sign that many are keen to return in a hurry.
Public reaction provides a clue. Legoland Windsor announced it would close last Friday with a tweet of a picture of a Lego model that resembled the Queen, while Playmobil shared a black and white Instagram image of one its toy figures wearing a hat and clutching a handbag with the words “Rest in Peace Queen Elizabeth II 1926-2022”.
Both posts provoked a lot of attention. The Playmobil image was of a figure it had begun making several years ago named “Queen of England”, but its post was shared widely on social media as people assembled lists of tributes deemed to be cashing in.
Crossfit UK reposted a workout of the day called “Queen Elizabeth II”, originally created in June for the platinum jubilee, saying it was “only fitting that this workout should now be made into a tribute WOD to celebrate her life”.
“This is very very weird behaviour,” a poster said in response. “Unhinged stuff,” said another.
A message on the Ann Summers homepage with a picture of the Queen and the words “Thank you Your Majesty” was shared, with links and images to sex toys and other products below.
For other brands, their ordinariness or obscurity was enough to raise eyebrows.
Mark Borkowski, a PR consultant and author, described the Playmobil post as “a dumb-arse thing to do”.
“People should not judge the mood of the nation from social media. The metrics are coming out – what’s happening on Twitter, on Instagram, the latest TikToks – but the people who are feeling the greatest loss right now aren’t into that. So when they see all these people dancing around with clever ideas, they show how far away they are from the public.”
Brands should be waiting to see what the public reaction is to the Queen’s death before reacting, Borkowski said. “This is going to challenge people and show where the real geniuses exist,” he said. “The royal family came out with an immaculate piece of prose after the Meghan Markle broadcast: ‘some recollections may vary’. Brevity is a lost art.”
A few firms, “disruptive startups”, may find they can feed the outrage machine, Borkowski added. “But if you’re a brand with a wider audience, you have to be a lot more respectful.”
“I think this will resonate for some time because there’s no real good news on the horizon,” he added. “As we get deeper into strikes and power cuts and whatever, this is going to be a time that no one of any generation has experienced. This will plonk Charles front and centre.”