Voices: The way brands are jumping on the Queen’s death to promote their products is grim and ghoulish

·4-min read
Voices: The way brands are jumping on the Queen’s death to promote their products is grim and ghoulish

The death of the Queen was always going to divide the nation. From royalists who romanticise every scrap of history to the anti-monarchists who want to abolish the crown, and all those in between who sit on the fence of indifference. It was always destined to be an inescapable and domineering historic moment, one that came into effect on 8 September when Buckingham Palace announced the Queen’s death.

But what a lot of us didn’t see coming was unity. Not in what the Queen symbolised – that’s still a discourse waging on social media – but in our disbelief at the absurdity of brand tributes that swamped the internet. Given the gravity of the situation, we knew that an outpouring of condolences would come from far and wide, however, we anticipated them to come from notable figures, like the president of the United States, not the British Kebab Awards.

Within an hour of the announcement, brands tweeted, posted, and emailed their thoughts and prayers to everyone they could, in an awkward attempt at sincerity. It didn’t land well. Among the outraged were those who sat in comical disbelief, unable to look away as more cringeworthy condolences came flooding in. They say the devil works hard, but these brands worked even harder to make sure they were included in what can only be described as the most capitalist form of fomo.

Hundreds of threads detailing the most bizarre tributes began to appear, offering us a collective space to ask what the hell was going on. The word dystopian has been used a lot lately, but this is an undeniably perfect example – death was commodified. No matter how many brands want to deny it, they marketed death in what appeared to be an attempt to gain profits. Just look at the way Funko Pop made sure to use a Pop figure of the Queen and a corgi to pass along their respects in a tweet that’s since been deleted. Why? A simple message would have sufficed. Though, in all honesty, silence would have been just as acceptable, if not better.

Our society is governed by the belief that silence is akin to inaction. Although the corporate machine was definitely at work that day, so too was this ideology that to not post is somehow disrespectful. Yet, silence can be deafening. It’s a powerful tool that recognises how ineffective words can sometimes be. It’s noting the fact that paying lip service is arguably more disrespectful than silence ever could be. Seeing a chihuahua dressed in a Beefeater costume, while ridiculously adorable, doesn’t strike the right tone.

It’s truly bizarre to think most of us will remember the Queen’s passing, not because of how moved we were (if we were at all), but because we saw Crazy Frog tweet “RIP The Queen”. Never did I imagine one of the most annoying remnants of the Noughties would have such a profound place in the history of a monarch’s death. Yet, here we are.

The onslaught, thankfully, has slowed. But the absurdity it commanded still remains, along with the question: was this clever marketing or grim opportunism? Let’s not pretend like some of these brands didn’t shamelessly have their logos all over those RIP emails, or that they didn’t use their own products (I’m looking at you, Playmobil) to say their goodbyes.

As someone who sits on the very fence of indifference which I mentioned earlier, I’m not particularly angered by these peculiar tributes. Despite this, I do feel that they’re fantastically horrific in their brazen messaging. It created a curiosity in me, a need to better understand what those in business thought of these questionable marketing decisions.

“As a business owner I have strong feelings about this as I think it’s important for businesses to take the decisions that work best in line with their values and their audiences,” shares Yinka Ewuola, an independent business owner. “I’ve seen some really inspiring business emails in the last 20 hours (albeit from small businesses as opposed to big ones), and sent one myself, because behind the campaigns are real people with some real (and complex) emotions.”

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Ewuola makes a valid point; however poorly these posts have been received, they’ve come from real people. Nevertheless, as Ewuola also mentions, businesses need to marry their decisions with their values, which is arguably where so many brands have failed.

It becomes a matter of ethics, as Pearl M Kasirye, head of PR at Pearl Lemon, explains. “Brands pushing marketing within an hour of the Queen’s death are expected. The whole culture of media and marketing requires brands to jump on trending news topics. The problem is, most brands don’t think about the ethics behind it. A lot of it leaves a poor taste in my mouth, to be honest.”

In some respects, there is no steadfast right or wrong answer here – marketing is, and always has been, divisive in its execution. Still, the thought (or lack of) behind these tributes comes from a warped adaptation of social etiquette, where brands use behavioural codes of so-called “polite society” and lace them with self-advancement. It’s the perfect encapsulation of the capitalist machine.