News & Opinion on how countries are aiming to utilise 'Soft Power', 'Public Diplomacy' and 'Nation Branding'
Over the past couple of years the global interest in the British Royal Family has soared and as the monarchy’s popularity stands at its highest for 15 years, at the beginning of June millions tuned into the Diamond Jubilee, coming out in vast numbers to celebrate the Queen’s 60 years on the throne. As such, just like the Royal Wedding a year before, an event involving the Royals became the perfect ‘public diplomacy’ opportunity; the chance to celebrate and communicate the UK’s rich heritage and modern strengths, highlighting the beneficial nature the British monarchy provide to British ‘soft power’.
Historically the role of monarchies has revolved around displays of great military power, of the ‘hard power’ of armies, but as times changed and the Royal Family now take a more ceremonial role within British politics, the monarchy has become less about “chivalry and manfulness and more about image and message”.
The Royal Family is usually identified as an important way in which people outside the UK think about the country. Both national and foreign public’s have an inherent fascination with British heritage and tradition and nothing symbolises this more than the British monarchy. The symbolic value of the Royal Family is about the history and heritage of the country. The monarchy’s moments of celebration have become moments of British celebration; moments of sadness, moments of national sadness. To illustrate this link in terms of numbers; over 24 million watched the Royal Wedding in 2011, estimates have suggested that 2 billion people watched the recent Diamond Jubilee, while Princess Diana’s funeral in 1997 saw a worldwide outpouring of grief and mourning. To put this into context, it was estimated 2.2 billion people worldwide watched the last FIFA World Cup, displaying the sheer popularity the British Royals can attain.
As such it has become a useful ‘brand’ for Britain to maintain, helping Britain to communicate to an international world and celebrating ‘Britishness’. They help provide identity and unity, pride and cohesion. As marketing scholars have claimed: the “consumption of the British crown and create a sense of self – a sense of identity – for individuals and groups”.
Britain is consistently seen as ‘old-fashioned’, with a great heritage and tradition with it strong throughout the world, and while names such as Manchester United, James Bond and Harry Potter can and have been used to enhance Britain’s image, giving it a youthful, dynamic element, the country’s real unique selling point is seen as the monarchy. They embody the spirit of Britain and the image of the country possibly more than any other item. They are as Harold Nicholson states “a guarantee of stability, security, continuity – the preservation of traditional values”.
“Impact of 1,000 politicians”
The uniqueness of the monarchy also provides great diplomatic opportunities; the ability to promote policies, build relationships and communicate with foreign public’s with credibility and legitimacy and the Royals have frequently been utilised as instruments of diplomacy. Edward VII embarked on a tour in 1903 with the aim of countering anti-British sentiment on the continent, and it was the tour that is believed to have helped lead to the Anglo-French Agreement of 1904. The visits in the late 1930s to Canada and America have also been seen as “conceivably help[ing] [to] unlock the isolationism of the New World”. While these visits though are not a new phenomenon, in a time when communication is key and ‘soft power’ is highly effective these visits become even more crucial. The recent trip to the Republic of Ireland highlights this
Visits are essentially a charm offensive, allowing the country to engage and accommodate alternative views, reinforcing the relationships Britain has cultivated over the years, building bridges and explaining the country to the world. However the supra-governmental nature of Royal visits deflect any political suspicion that a visit from the British Prime Minister might not. If a Royal visits another country it is not necessarily seen as an official move of the government, ensuring that they aren’t seen as propaganda. This is fundamental to ‘public diplomacy’ activities. As Jeremy Hunt has said: the Royals have “the impact of 1,000 politicians”.
As WikiLeaks has reaffirmed the “symbolic currency of nobility is still highly valued in much of the world, and the British Royal Family retains an impressive share of it”. Thus Royals retain greater symbolic value, and are more likely to impress, enhancing the international image and serving the national interest. Royal visits afford Britain the opportunity to retain and project influence, ensuring that Britain is a “little more reachable to the rest of the world”.
This reach extends far beyond anything a politician could achieve. The British Royal Family retain an important within the 16 countries that retain the British sovereign as Head of State, and thus the Queen has been described as “sixteen Queens rolled into one”. She is sovereign to 15 other realms including Canada and New Zealand.
By virtue of her position as head of the British Commonwealth she also has an association with over 1 million people, and the 54 countries that comprise the intergovernmental organisation, including countries the size of Australia and Ghana. This figure is amazingly a third of all mankind. The worldwide appeal does not end there, however, as the monarchy truly has global appeal. There are countless countries in the Middle East whereby Monarchy retains an important role, without counting the amount that ‘consume’ the brand and are fascinated with the British crown. As Laura Bush, the wife of President George W. Bush said “I think it’s (the British monarchy) is a fairy-tale to the United States. Americans have always been fascinated by the Monarchy and certainly the British Monarchy”. It is this fascination, this adaptability and this global appeal that ensure the Royal Family provide great communication opportunities for Britain.
The monarchy is intertwined within British history, and from Henry VIII to Queen Victoria to the currency monarch, the British can locate their tradition and heritage within the Royal Family. They provide a unique identity and help ensure the British maintain respect within international relations. Their never-ending popularity, can and will provide numerous opportunities for the British government to exploit in terms of ‘communication’ strategies. Just as the Americans look to the Founding Fathers, or the Japanese to their Emperor, the British look towards their Royal Family.