In what was undoubtedly old news to anyone who has been paying attention to the British royal family, St. James’s Palace issued an official statement last week to announce that “Their Royal Highnesses the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge are delighted to confirm they are expecting a baby in July.” (Hello, math skills? Or reading comprehension, given how many gossip magazines and websites have been talking about it for months already.)
But it’s official now, and the monarchy is clearly trying to manage and massage the brand. Even though Kate Middleton is a mere 31 years old, the palace PR waited until she was in the “safe” second trimester to make public what many people knew all along. And with her hospitalization for acute morning sickness and the unfortunate nurse suicide no longer making top headlines, all eyes are on the good news anticipated for this summer.
The baby has an exceedingly strongly branded profile, more so than Prince William’s or Harry’s or their poor doomed mother’s, or anyone else’s. He or she will be the first British monarch born in the 21st century—or, as many communications experts are calling it, the age of the personal brand.
Duchess Kate herself is being branded (and is branding herself) like no one before her at Buckingham Palace. Her parents, in all likelihood, could not have predicted that their daughter would become a highly admired, highly scrutinized princess. (Really, what are the odds?) But now that it’s becoming exceedingly clear that she’s going to be the first royal mother to be branded as a Yummy Mummy (a term so much more appealing than its American equivalents, especially the detestable MILF), they’re trying to cash in.
As the Daily Mail put it recently, “They may enjoy luncheons with the Queen at Windsor Castle. But that hasn’t stopped Carole and Michael Middleton going to the other end of the catering spectrum. The parents of the Duchess of Cambridge have bought the rights to sell merchandise based on Channel 4’s Come Dine With Me.” They’ll be selling paper plates, place cards and menus tied to the British reality show in which contestants compete to see who can host the best dinner party.
But also, not coincidentally, just weeks after Kate announced that she was expecting, her parents announced that they were launching a line of baby products that say “Little Prince” and “Little Princess,” among those that the Mail said left them “open to accusations that they are cashing in on the royal association”—i.e., brand—by hawking party packs that they said were appropriate for American-style baby showers and christening or first-birthday parties. It’s not the first time, either, as the company also offered products with royal wedding and Diamond Jubilee themes.
Admittedly, it would be hard for any entrepreneur to resist the marketing catnip of a royal family connection, and Kate’s own very adult, very put-together brand is resilient enough for her to withstand any accusations of her family cashing in, to say nothing of tabloid scandals and paparazzi stalking. Us Weekly has breathlessly reported on everything from her being criticized by the notoriously gloomy singer Morrissey to her attending a performance of Cirque du Soleil (“Life’s a circus for the Duchess of Cambridge!”), the latter likely, in part, a conscious choice to reinforce her brand as someone who still enjoys “mass entertainment.”
The latest buzz, and a piece of “news” that’s especially interesting from a branding perspective, is that Kate Middleton’s and Kim Kardashian’s babies are due at approximately the same time. As Us Weekly noted, in a rather understated fashion, “So far, their due dates seem to be the only thing in common between their pregnancies.” (E! posted a rather amusing comparison, remarking, among other details, that cutting their hair into bangs is one other thing the expectant mothers have in common.)
To state the obvious, Kim Kardashian is still legally married (after a whopping 72 days of trying to make it work) to someone other than her baby’s father, whereas Kate’s storybook wedding to her Prince William was one of the most tuned-in-to romantic events ever. Even the way they broke their news reinforced their brands: a “Today”appearance for the queen of American reality TV, versus a proper, formal announcement from the palace for the future Queen of England.
The choices Kate makes to brand her son or daughter will be even more telling. Long before he or she has a chance to forge an identity, the child will be under even more scrutiny as the first digitally connected, post-millennial royal. There’s no word yet about possible baby names, but I bet that if Kate and William have chosen one, they’ve also registered the URL and opened the Twitter account.