"People apply for the warrant because it is a mark of excellence," said Pippa Dutton of the Royal Warrants association. "It's very helpful for trade because people say, well if the Queen shops there, then it must be good. It's very good for trade abroad."
A warrant is absolutely free and, because of its links to the royal household, which forbids advertising of any kind, it cannot be promoted. But it is so well established, the small crest speaks for itself. It is like a “quality guaranteed” label, with the added cachet that goes with a royal family.
"A Royal Warrant makes a statement without doing anything," said David Hassle, director of royal and diplomatic affairs at UK car manufacturing company Land Rover, a holder of all four warrants. "Since we do not commercialize our links with the royal family, it's hard to gauge how people react to it. But it brings more good than anything else because of the prestige of the royal family."
A small ad hoc survey of British customers confirmed the image of quality and prestige the warrants add to brands.
"I think a Royal Warrant sticks out as a quality assurance sign," said Kirsty Watt, a financial consultant in Edinburgh. "If I'm buying a present, the warrant probably means it was more expensive than similar items, and I like to be seen as being generous."
Victoria McDougall, who works in magazine publishing in London, agrees. "When it comes to luxury items, Royal Warrants for me are reassuringly British, fine quality, traditional and a little luxurious too. The price tag tends to be a little pricey. But not outrageously so," she adds.
"I optimistically think of the Royal Warrant as an indicator of a certain quality that was once synonymous with the British industry," explains Kitty Douglas Hamilton, a charity campaigns manager in Scotland.
Clearly, Britain's Royal Warrant is a boost to any brand entitled to it. But how do other royal families sell in the rest of Europe?
Despite common perceptions, some European royals are also ambitious business people, heading successful brands. Queen Margaret of Denmark is a flourishing winemaker selling 150,000 bottles of her own vintage to French restaurants last year. Britain's Prince Charles is manager of organic products food brand Duchy Originals, which sells like hot cakes in the UK and made € 58 million (US$ 77M) in sales last year. Prince Carl XVI Gustaf of Sweden and his wife are marketing their fragrance Solliden worldwide, hoping to sell one million bottles over the next year.
The success of these brands is explained by several factors. Making profits is generally not a priority for royal households. Proceeds from Duchy Originals and Solliden are given in part or wholly to charity. Business royals therefore generally make or endorse good-quality high-end products to match their own stature. The logic goes that customers looking for good quality goods will be attracted by these brands.
Obviously, royal fame also works in the brands favor. "Solliden is probably the most famous product we have, and it hasn't even been released," said Eva Roberti, communications director of Swedish cosmetics company Oriflame, which will distribute the fragrance.
Prince Charles is also a boost for Duchy Originals. "What is interesting with this brand is the guarantee that goes with it," said Stéphane Kersaudy, salesman for Fresh Food Village, a distributor of British foods in France. "With Duchy Originals, you can be sure that the Prince would not put his name to a product which hasn't been checked and properly managed."
But Peter Fisk, group managing director of Brand Finance, a brand valuation consultancy, believes a royal connection isn't always a positive endorsement.
"A royal link can have both positive and negative connotations," Fisk writes in an e-mail interview. The connotations, he explains, depend on the following criteria:
- Audience (what the consumer thinks of those attributes; do they like or dislike heritage?)
- Royalty (how the royals are perceived, for example UK versus Denmark, and how they behave)
- Time dependence (do they move forward with the brand?)
Fisk says that, compared with other celebrity brands, it is much harder for royal brands to attract consumers for the following reasons:
- Celebrities gain their attributes through achievement and behavior;
royalty mainly through position.
- Consumers seek brands that match them or their aspirations. Therefore
they can identify with celebrities better than they can identify with royalty.
Although royalty endorsement is more difficult, inflexible, and sensitive, says Fisk, it is also typically at no cost. While a royal connection may be hard to get, it provides a unique celebrity endorsement and a gauge of quality for free. Of course, very few mortal brands do get it. Royalty is in the genes: either you have it or you don't.