Death of the Duke: What Royal Warrant responses can teach us about brand voice

Jo-ann Fortune

Head of Content

In the 24 hours that followed the Duke of Edinburgh’s passing, a blizzard of brands took to social media to share their condolences.

But what was the response of those directly connected by Royal Warrant? And how can their posts help you refine your own brand channel strategy, messaging and voice?

I analysed 180 brands granted a covetable Royal Warrant as recognition for suppling goods or services to the Royal Household, to find out how they created unique meaning in a sea of shared sentiment.

Channel strategy

These brands are a social bunch, with 84% active on B2C social platforms. Of that number, 76% are on Facebook, 70% on Instagram and 68% on Twitter. And when news of the Duke’s death broke, just over a quarter took to social to respond.

While many posted across all of their channels, Instagram took the top spot, with 29% publishing here over 28% on Facebook and 26% on Twitter.

Some took their response a step further and updated their homepages to mark the passing. So important is the association to Halcyon Days, which specialises in Objects d’Art and boasts five decades of Royal Warrants, it temporarily closed its online shop.

At the other end of the scale, notable absences in response can help even the most ‘civilian’ brand reflect on their own social strategy…

Was it a conscious decision from the majority of Royal Warrant alcohol brands, for example, not to mark the passing? Did it not fit with social strategies that aim to reflect brand image and audience interests? Could the absence be a reflection of pre-planned schedules? Or was it even an agenda point at all?

This brings us to the first questions to consider for your own brand…

Q: Are you clear about which topics you want to post about on each of your social profiles?

And is this informed by people and platform insights - so that when you do post, your audience sees and understands your message?

Channel optimisation issues in this set, for instance, included posting without images, cross-posting paragraph copy across several tweets without series numbering, and retweeting with no brand response. All of which can influence visibility and impact.

Brand messaging

Choosing the right channels is important, but it’s context that creates real value for your audience and brand. Connection is built through messaging that clearly reflects your values through topic relevance.

Despite the direct connection here, a surprisingly small 16% of brands mentioned the Royal Warrant in their posts. Some may have considered it crass. But there’s little doubt that it added clarity and weight to those who did.

Audio equipment company Connevans showed its network credentials by sharing a post from The Royal Warrant Holders Association, adding its own message of ‘heartfelt sympathy’. While gun and rifle makers James Purdey & Sons and luxury fashion brand DAKS spoke of their honour and pride in serving The Royal Family.

‘It is with profound sadness that we acknowledge the passing of HRH Prince Philip, Duke of Edinburgh and offer our deepest condolences to Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II and the other members of the Royal Family. It has been a great honour for James Purdey & Sons to have held HRH The Duke of Edinburgh’s Royal Warrant since January 1956 and to have served him for the past sixty-five years.’ James Purdey & Sons

‘As a proud holder for 65 years of the Royal Warrant HRH The Duke of Edinburgh, we at DAKS are profoundly saddened to hear of Prince Philip passing today. We’d like to extend our sincere condolences to HM The Queen and all members of the Royal Family at this sad time.’ DAKS

Other brands created direct links by reminiscing on the Duke’s visits to their businesses.

Boots shared an image of the Duke at Head Officeprompting comments from social followers who worked with the brand at the time. And Kellogg’s and The Ritz also posted specific memories:

‘We are saddened to hear of the death of HRH Prince Philip and our thoughts are with Her Majesty The Queen and The Royal Family. Today we are sharing the fond memory of his visit to our Manchester factory all the way back in 1963.’ Kellogg’s

‘We are deeply saddened to hear the announcement this morning from HM The Queen that her husband, HRH Prince Philip, The Duke of Edinburgh has passed away. We salute HRH’s lifetime of public service, as well as his much-loved sense of humour and have treasured memories of moments he spent with us at The Ritz. We send our most sincere condolences to Her Majesty and the Royal Family at this sad time.’ The Ritz

Brand archetypes

It’s fairly easy to create context through this reportage style, providing you’ve got something to report on.

In the absence of a specific story, Carl Jung’s archetypes can help you ground your messages in brand relevance and find your voice. Derived from 12 personality archetypes the psychiatrist first outlined in 1919, the concept is based on the idea that everyone (and every brand) has one dominant trait.

For example, all-weather clothing brands Musto and Hunter share The Explorer archetype, reflecting their customers’ love of outdoor adventure. And which they both placed at the heart of their connection to the Prince.

‘Everyone at Musto is deeply saddened by the passing of HRH Prince Philip The Duke of Edinburgh. Our thoughts go out to Her Majesty the Queen and the Royal Family during this sad time. With his love and commitment to the great outdoors, we are proud to have held his Royal Warrant since 2008.’ Musto

‘We are greatly saddened to learn of the passing of His Royal Highness The Prince Philip, Duke of Edinburgh. As President Emeritus of WWF, he dedicated his life to preserving and celebrating the environment we love. Through the Duke of Edinburgh Award he continually inspired generations of young people to have a sense of adventure to explore. It has been the utmost honour to hold a Royal Warrant by Appointment to HRH Duke of Edinburgh since 1977. We send our deepest condolences to Her Majesty the Queen and the Royal Family.’ Hunter

Musto was also the only brand to post an image of a landscape, again strengthening that Explorer bond.

Jaguar Land Rover’s brand work is often drawn on as an example of The Explorer. But its royal response leans more towards The Creator to make a connection through industry:

‘At Jaguar Land Rover we are deeply saddened by the passing of His Royal Highness The Prince Philip, Duke of Edinburgh. Our thoughts are with Her Majesty The Queen & Royal Family. The Duke devoted his life to public service & made a significant contribution to UK manufacturing, engineering & design.’ Jaguar Land Rover

And as The Everyman, high-street brands Cadbury and John Lewis & Partners seek connection with their audiences by speaking for the nation:

‘We are deeply saddened by the death of His Royal Highness The Duke of Edinburgh and profoundly grateful for his extraordinary service to the nation over so many years. We extend our heartfelt sympathy to Her Majesty The Queen and The Royal Family.’ Waitrose

‘We are deeply saddened by the death of His Royal Highness The Duke of Edinburgh. We are grateful for the extraordinary service he gave to the nation over so many years. Our thoughts and sympathies are with Her Majesty The Queen and The Royal Family.’ Cadbury

(Yes, they’re different…)

There are a few little — okay, they’re big — questions here that can help pinpoint the purpose in your posts:

Q: What are your core brand messages and values? What’s at the heart of your brand personality — which archetype best represents you? And is this reflected through your comms?

Brand voice

Language and tone can also work hard to reflect your audience and differentiate your brand. Crucial to make connections in such a crowded content space.

Reflecting both the sombre context of the messages and the luxury positioning of many of these brands, much of the language here was fairly formal. Only two brands used emojis (the British flag, a red heart and a black heart) and one signed off with ‘xx’ kisses.

Two-thirds posted of their sadness at the news, the majority using the staid “saddened”, and many chose adjectives such as “deep” (used in 38% of the messages), “great” and the more formal “profound” to express the strength of feeling.

When defining tone through vocab, Jung’s archetypes again come in handy to make sense of what’s going on and what you want to go for.

Boot’s is more conversational and straightforward as The Everyman: “We are very sad to hear that HRH Prince Philip died today.”

While luxury perfume brand Penhaligon’s post is a poetic illustration of The Lover. Both formal and intimate, it’s strong and consistent brand voice helps it stand apart. (And I challenge you to read it aloud without adopting the intonation of a character straight outta Bridgerton).

‘It strikes Penhaligon’s with great sorrow to learn of the passing of His Royal Highness The Prince Philip, Duke of Edinburgh. His life is a testament to the irrepressibility of the British spirit, his marriage a heart-warming example of the fruits of adoration. Penhaligon’s consider it the highest of honours to have supplied His Royal Highness with our services and scents over the years. Our deepest condolences go out to Her Majesty and The Royal Family at this moment in time.’ Penhaligon’s

Though Penhaligon’s was in the minority to speak in the third person — 70% favoured the first-person ‘we’ and ‘our’ — others that did helped to dispel the myth of this voice as inherently distant.

Barbour implied a direct connection by issuing a statement from its Chairman that addressed The Queen: ‘Our Chairman Dame Margaret Barbour would like to send her sincere condolences to Her Majesty The Queen on the sad news of the passing of The Duke of Edinburgh’.

And the use of collective nouns made messages more personal: ‘The entire team here at Thomas Lyte’, ‘Everyone at BT’, ‘From all the Autoglym family’.

Luxury shirtmakers Turnbull & Asser were the only brand to address the Prince himself, creating impact through an emotive, human tone.

‘Prince Philip, you have our highest gratitude for a dedicated life of public service. It is one to be celebrated, no question. Husband to Queen Elizabeth II for 73 years and father of Prince Charles, our patron. Our thoughts will remain with Her Majesty The Queen, her family, and those that knew him best, today, and always. Turnbull & Asser

So, what can you take from these examples to define and refine your style? You guessed it – more questions:

Q: How do you want to talk about your brand, people and audiences? Is your tone more formal or informal and how does this change based on context? What vocabulary will you use to create your unique brand personality and connect with your audiences?

Tone of voice exercise

Put this all together and you’ve got a neat little exercise to help define your brand’s unique voice:

  • Firstly, decide which archetype best reflects your brand personality — see a full list with explanations here.

  • Then imagine your brand supplies the Royal Family.

  • Ask whether you’d mark a Royal event with a social post and explore relevance to help hone your comms strategy. (If you did mark the Prince’s passing, interrogate your rationale and angle.)

  • Give it a go, even if it’s a no…

  • Decide which channel/s you’d post on and in which formats.

  • Then write a post to work through messaging, vocab and voice. Again, if you did post, re-write to see if you’d do anything differently armed with these pointers.

  • Challenge yourself to craft a post that reflects your brand and audience and differentiates your brand against the examples above. Then once you’re done, record your channel, messaging and voice anchors to help you stay focused.

So, would you?

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