A Minute With...

Branding expert Cele Otnes

7/12/2013  8:00 am

The expected birth of another heir to the British throne later this month has experts and royal watchers predicting a “baby bump” for the British economy. Cele Otnes is a marketing professor in the University of Illinois College of Business and studies consumer rituals. Otnes, who also is a co-author of a forthcoming book about the branding of the British royal family titled “Royal Fever: The British Monarchy in Consumer Culture,” spoke with News Bureau business & law editor Phil Ciciora about the likely economic impact in Britain from the firstborn child of Prince William and the former Kate Middleton, the Duchess of Cambridge.

What effect will the royal baby have on the British economy?

Cele OtnesI think it will be a minor blip for the British economy – it’s certainly not the Olympics, but I would guess that it will be a big deal simply because there hasn’t been an heir to the throne born since Prince William over 30 years ago. And the reason why it’s a big deal is that the British royal family has expertly integrated themselves into consumer culture, both in Britain and in the U.S.

One British retail research organization predicts sales of around 250 million pounds ($373 million) in royal-themed baby merchandise. And, of course, if the baby is a girl, that would mean it’s the first direct female heir to the throne, which may translate into even bigger sales.

Will the boost come more from merchandise or tourism?

I think there will be a boost in tourism. There will be a lot of media interest in this child – special baby issues, that sort of thing, because who doesn’t love stories with pictures of cute babies? Especially when he or she will be heir to the throne.

What kind of merchandise will be spawned from the birth of the royal baby?

We’ll see a mixture of both nice and kitschy things, since a lot of merchandise will be sanctioned by the Royal Collection, which is controlled by the crown. But we’ll also see things from other retailers that are a little more down-market – cookie tins, iPhone cases, commemorative portable potties for toilet training – things of that nature.

Will there be a “Kate-effect” for the baby gear the royal couple uses in public, and will that function as an unintended royal endorsement for certain products?

Absolutely. There’s been a “Kate-effect” for a lot of the off-the-rack clothing that she’s been photographed wearing. Whenever she wears something, it’s analyzed and dissected, and then the tabloids usually run a piece on how you, too, can get the “Kate-look.” For example, the navy-blue engagement dress she wore was readily available and then immediately sold out after she was pictured wearing it. They couldn’t keep it in stock.

So I am absolutely convinced that we will see some sort of retail bounce from the accessible goods that they buy for the child. I don’t see how it would be any different. The interesting thing about Kate is that she does blend the high-end stuff with off-the-rack stuff. And it’s not because she’s consciously trying to include the public – I think that’s just her taste. She knows how to buy on a budget.

We’ll still hear plenty about all the baby bling for this child, and we’ll no doubt hear about the outrageous gifts that different countries send them.

After the royal wedding, the diamond jubilee and last summer’s Olympics, aren’t we all royal-ed out? As a brand, will this child be the final jewel in the royal crown?

More like another jewel in the royal crown. I would say the long-term effect will be an increased interest in tourism. People have called this generation, the queen’s grandchildren, the “Young Royals,” because they’re all in their 20s and 30s and they’re hanging out in pubs and clubs. Now these young royals are transitioning into adulthood, and that’s a very interesting thing.

It’s also inevitable that at some point in the next 10 years we’re going to start having some royal deaths. Prince Philip is 92 years old, and Queen Elizabeth is 87. So we’re going to have all this celebratory stuff – new babies, maybe Prince Harry settling down – and then we’re going to be brought back down to earth.

But it’s also inevitable that, at some point, we will have another coronation, which will be a huge, huge deal. With people living longer, coronations of the British monarchy are fewer and farther between. So the more rare an activity is, the more interest there is in it. And those kinds of events are the sort of thing that keeps brand equity high; it reinvigorates the personality of the brand. And given Prince Charles’ proclivities for having to have the best of everything – the queen, for example, serves potato chips at parties while Charles prefers caviar – I imagine that his coronation will be something to behold.

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