Following the news that the Queen had passed at the age of 96 on Thursday 8th September, media outlets and brands were quick to show respect with changes to their advertising and scheduling. Immeasurable throngs of Brits queued to see the Queen lying in state. Yet the day after Her Majesty’s death, our research pulse indicated, the nation turned chiefly to media channels as their main source of staying up to date.
Nearly all media channels pre-prepared their response to Operation London Bridge so moved quickly to action necessary alterations to scheduling. Commercial TV channels, such as ITV and Channel 4, and major radio stations paused all advertising on their primary channels. Out-ofhome operators replaced digital commercials with a commemorative still, whilst newspapers dedicated the majority of their content, if not all, to the Queen in the following days, and halted all scheduled adverts. The same approach was also in place for Her Majesty’s state funeral.
Whilst this response was swift and clear, we also saw brands aim to pay their respects in similar ways. Our research pulse showed that Brits appreciated tributes posted by brands on their websites and social media and, on balance, they welcomed it. Interestingly, however, most individuals felt that brands should freeze their media only for a short period of time with around 90% indicating that they did not expect a continued blackout until after the funeral. Nevertheless, the vast majority honoured the eleven days of mourning.
Whilst a second wave of research showed that consumers thought brands reacted appropriately in general, some did face backlash for the way in which they aimed to post their respects. Brits showed an overwhelming view that brands should not look to profit from it – whether that was a pause on promotional emails, holding back on paid advertising, or not tying their brand name to the Queen. Examples of brands that tried to personalise or ‘over-brand’ their commemorative posts were swiftly confronted with a negative response on social media for insensitivity.
It was perhaps the ultimate case study in recognising that not all cultural events should be treated as branding opportunities for advertisers, intentionally or unintentionally. Whilst certain companies with royal warrants or those who had worked with the Queen before (see Paddington Bear) had license to adopt a delicately more creative approach, typically brands should stick to short, appropriate, unbranded messages in scenarios like this.
We saw, both in research and in practice, how Brits want to see media outlets and brands respond to momentous, solemn occurrences of this nature. Hopefully, we’re a long way from experiencing something similar again, but there are learnings to be taken by brands going forward. The primary lesson is that brands must plan and adopt a toolkit for their responses, with guidelines on how, when and when not to respond, with pre-authorisation from the required powers for those responses. Brits only ask brands to respond in an appropriate manner, so having a plan of action is the best way of ensuring it is done suitably.