For £49, you can buy the official Royal Wedding Commemorative Plate. Sold by the royal family’s own trust, it’s a piece of handmade, fine bone china with Harry & Meghan’s initials placed in a gilded center monogram. The decorative borders are said to be inspired by the mid-13th century Gilebertus doors at St. George’s Chapel.
It is decidedly not dishwasher safe.
But for a mere £25, you can get another type of commemorative plate. It’s in no way endorsed by Buckingham Palace. But it does feature a portrait of Ed Sheeren next to Meghan Markle. (Sorry Harry.)
The plates are by Lucy Bryant, and but one of countless examples of quirky merchandising and brand plays from the crumbs of the royal wedding. “As soon as we saw Lucy’s plates, we knew they’d be a hero product,” says Alice Mayor, founder of art tchotchke retailer We Built This City. “They embody everything that’s great about the British and our attitude towards national occasions of this scale–a world-class sense of humor and a healthy dose of self deprecation.” Mayor hasn’t shared exact sales numbers, but has said all their royal wedding merchandise has exceeded sales expectations.
For companies like We Built This City, the royal wedding is an opportunity to make a quick buck on merchandising. Strategy consultants at Brand Finance estimate that the tourist souvenir market around the royal wedding represents a £50 million ($67.7 million) opportunity for local U.K. business. And that doesn’t seem to include internet retailers.
Royal weddings have always been merchandizing opportunities, but with the rise of the internet, and its bona fide American princess, that opportunity has expanded to memes and social media–causing pageantry to be cross-branded with booze, fajitas, and prophylactics.
“There’s always this tradition of memorabilia, not just around royal weddings but royal events, like a jubilee or coronation. But I think that our feeling is that plates, tea cups, teaspoons–all of the traditional stuff that’s associated with memorabilia–is frankly boring,” says Hugh Pomfret.
From condoms to Chili’s fascinators
In his day job, Pomfret runs an art gallery. But at night, he sells Crown Jewels Heritage Condoms–promoted with the face of Harry and Meghan in embrace. They’re described as: “Artisan-style sheaths, tailored to a regal fit and drizzled with lube, promise discerning love-makers a royal union of pleasure and style. Presented in a handsome souvenir case, Crown Jewels offers an uniquely patriotic experience. When the pack is opened, one is treated to an exclusive musical arrangement of God Save the Queen and The Star Spangled Banner.”
Pomfret says that sales have been “amazing” as half the inventory sold in just a few weeks–which is faster than the commemorative condoms Pomfret produced for William’s wedding. Those sales are largely from America. One customer in Ohio recently bought 25 packs for a bridal shower.
“I think this is America’s royal wedding. In the past, Americans have looked on at William and Kate and enjoyed the British spectacle,” says Pomfret. “But this is your girl! This is Meghan Markle! It’s such a modern marriage in so many respects.”
Strongbow–the British cider brand owned by Heineken–is using the marriage between Britain and America as a launchpad for a new rosé apple cider. It’s a bubbly concoction with a vibrant pink hue, but buyers beware, it still tastes as appley as any cider you know.
“We realized that tea time is a fun British tradition, and we wanted to . . . marry that with America’s current drinking obsession, rosé wine,” says Eric Markus, brand director of Strongbow, alluding to our monstrous obsession with #roseallday. “It felt so natural to us to jump in, and be that bridge to help Americans join that celebration.” As part of the promotion, Strongbow commissioned illustrator Stanley Chow to make a whimsical tea set with a wineglass stem. It features no royal faces, but two apples being joined with an arrow.
Of all the brands we spoke to, Strongbrow is the only with any official relationship to the royal family via what’s dubbed the royal warrant, “a mark of recognition to those who supply goods or services to the household of her majesty,” or essentially, the closest thing you can get to being an official brand of Harry and Meghan.
“We supply cider to the royal house and have since 1901,” says Marcus. “The royal warrant is interesting. They have very specific rules about not being really able to talk about it. So it’s hard to navigate. But regardless, Strongbow is drank, and has been drunk, by the royal family.”
Recently, the American food chain Chili’s embraced the royal wedding hype with a limited-edition release of cufflinks and fascinators to fans on social media–each of which is decorated appropriately with Chili’s signature, but perhaps not exactly considered royal, food items including burgers, ribs, and fajitas. The hats were designed by Kansas State University student Sarah Fox, and brought to life by Kentucky Derby-famous fascinator brand Dee’s Hats. Compared to KFC’s golden chicken bucket, the fascinators are downright classy.
For Chili’s, the pageantry of the royal wedding was an opportunity to call attention to a new pared-down menu of smoked and grilled meats, along with Presidente Margaritas that are shaken exactly 25 times. The brand made a major investment restructuring along the new menu. “Now the comms challenge is how to remind people,” says Steve Provost, CMO at Chili’s.
And Markle herself–being a biracial American, raised by a single mom–makes a powerful anchor for customer association for the impossible-to-generalize market of Middle America. “We attract guests from every walk of life, every ethnicity,” says Provost. “And I think one of the most [amazing] things about this wedding is, in a time when it’s getting harder and harder to reach everyone, everyone is truly fascinated by this wedding, no matter where you come from.”
A legally gray coat of arms
Without a warrant, exactly how can another company get away putting a prince, and a future princess, on a product like a box of condoms? “You have to be careful. There is a minefield of trademarks you need to navigate. The first packet of condoms was called ‘Balmoral Condoms,’ that was a working name, and we looked into that, and we would have been sued to hell,” says Pomfret. “If we’d used a royal crest we would have gotten into hot water. If we’d claimed this was used by the Royal Family, we would have as well.”
But a beat later, Pomfret admits it’s still a legal roll of the dice–one that seems shared by small merchandisers and major companies alike. “It was very important to us to do something that was tasteful, and in no way mean-spirited,” says Pomfret. “I think unless you do something that’s genuinely offensive or a real kind of passing off breach of copyright, the royal family doesn’t have a reputation of being hugely litigious. They treat these things with the humor, and detachment, they warrant.”
Chili’s, like most others, moved forward without the royal family’s permission. “It’s shocking, but I called Phillip and he would not return my phone calls!” laughs Provost, “We did not [pursue approval] . . . but we’re just having fun here. We haven’t received any cease and desist letters. And we think we’re doing our part to pay homage to this stylish romance, when we raise a margarita to them on Saturday like everybody else.”
If the prospect of raising a Presidente Margarita to U.K. royalty sounds vapid, silly, or self-promoting, perhaps it is. Or perhaps all these brands are just embracing the true spirit of the royal wedding itself.