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12 May 2021updated 19 Aug 2021 4:26pm

Is the launch of William and Kate’s YouTube channel the beginning of a royal rebrand?

The threat of celebrity has always loomed over the royal family. Now they are finally leaning in.

By Eleanor Peake

The royal family is having a bit of a marketing moment. On 5 May the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge uploaded the first-ever royal YouTube video: a 30-second trailer entitled “Welcome to our official YouTube channel!” They are sitting on their sofa; Kate in a black turtleneck, William in a jumper. For the first time we see the couple in a casual setting. The video opens with a playful out-take: “Be careful what you say now,” says William pointing into the camera, “these guys are filming everything.” Kate laughs. Cue stock music.

This “quirky” trailer could be ripped straight from any good influencer’s playbook. The soft lighting, the warm music, the off-the-cuff sound bites when William and Kate “forget” that people are watching. Except, they were watching: in 24 hours the video amassed more than one million views. 

The royal family is one of the most successful brands in the world, but until recently Kate and William seemed intent on playing a fairly passive role in its marketing. This sugary video marks a gear change, but it also looks like it could be part of a new trend. Just a month earlier, to mark their tenth wedding anniversary, the couple released another family film to their social channels. Or was it an ad? The video came complete with sandy Norfolk beaches, wax Barbour jackets and laughing children playing in their garden; an image of family paradise. The film-maker, Will Warr, has coincidentally also shot ads for some other well-known brands: Microsoft, Puma, Tatler.

It’s probably not a coincidence that these promotional videos come so soon after Harry and Meghan released a trailer of their own; a masterclass in the sort of manufactured warmth that will feel either soothing or jarring, depending on your age and whether you’re from the UK or the US. Instead of a YouTube channel, Harry and Meghan are promoting their new Spotify podcast, Archewell Audio, named after their son Archie.

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We hear Meghan teasing Harry for his British accent. They playfully hum a Christmas song together while softly describing their year full of “kindness and compassion”. And that was only two minutes. Just like millennial influencers across the land, Harry and Meghan’s delivery is geared towards displaying their authenticity. With every small joke shared on the recording, we are encouraged to buy into their performance and forget that this is carefully choreographed branding. That brand, across the world in California, is markedly separate from the one back in Buckingham Palace. 

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The monarchy has always had a confusing relationship with modern media. Prince Philip’s conflict with TV was well-documented; in 1953, as chair of his wife’s coronation committee, he over-ruled fierce opposition to have the royal coronation televised to the world. Just like William and Kate, he believed that humanising the monarchy would generate better PR for the institution. Yet eight decades later, in line with his wishes, the Duke of Edinburgh’s funeral was barely filmed. After years of increasing media exposure (including a behind-the-scenes documentary in 1969, which proved so controversial it has never been broadcast again) the late prince grew to regret his early embrace of video, something he eventually deemed intrusive and untameable.

For now, though, this royal media rebrand seems to be working. Just days after the launch of their new channel, William and Kate have almost 500,000 YouTube subscribers, with 130,000 likes and thousands of adoring comments from across the world. By curating their image and sharing more “authentic” content on their social channels, the royal couple have an opportunity to take their place in the ranks of socially relevant celebrities. Is this the makeover “Brand Windsor” needs to stay relevant in the modern era? We’ll have to tune into the first episode to find out.