The Royal Warrant: the great revival or the great resignation?
Look closely at your Cadbury’s chocolate bar and you’ll find it has a Royal Warrant on it. (Yup, the funky coat of arms and ‘By the appointment to H.M. The Queen’). There’s over 800 current royal warrants in operation and they signify that a brand has supplied the Queen or Prince Charles (or previously Prince Philip) for 5 years. So that Cadbury’s chocolate bar in your hand right now may also be in the Queen’s snack cupboard or hiding in her handbag (naturally, Launer has a warrant too).
Warrant lists offer the opportunity to be significant and personal choices, yet these aren’t always so meaningful for today’s British audience. When Prince Philip died in 2021, his 35 royal warrants expired, including: Boots Opticians, Jaguar and Peter Jones – but I bet few could name who was on the list.
Considering the profile of the Royal Family, having a royal warrant should be a big kudos. Yet few consumers know what they are, and as far back as 2011 only 13% of consumers thought they made a difference, with 42% seeing them as unimportant. Some brands, like Nestle and Jacobs Crackers have even removed the symbol from many of their products, instead selecting the most relevant usage of the symbol and expressing a desire for consistent global packaging.
And let’s face it, the Royals have not been without scandal recently and their purpose and reputation have been called into question. But family scandals aside, many do still want to dress and live like the Royals. Within hours anything that the Duchess of Cambridge or little Prince George are seen wearing sells out. The Royals have immense influence over consumption – so why doesn’t it translate to the warrant?
Perhaps the warrant’s greatest strength – an exclusive fixed marker of service– is also its greatest weakness. In a fast-moving world it risks being static, out of date and no longer ‘on trend’. Not only that, the two people able to give warrants are 73 and 96 and arguably their tastes reflect their age. As the succession progresses in the next few decades, the royal warrant risks becoming obsolete if something is not done to rejuvenate it.
For me there are two possibilities – one the list is abolished, and royal patronage becomes more flexible and dynamic. Or secondly, the list strives to reflect a new, slower view of consumption that has never been more relevant – one of local community, durability, and loyalty. The royal warrant can be a marker that directs consumers to local brands that are making things with a difference. Who the royals choose to patronize reflects not just their personality but also their vision for the nation they symbolically lead and represent.
There are signs this transformation is in progress. Prince Charles has long championed sustainable brands and over her remarkable 70-year reign, the Queen’s choices have shaped some of the biggest brands we know and love today. Just this week, Instagram alerted me to a jubilee celebration for Royal Warrant holders and Sainsbury’s food magazine has an article explaining what the warrant means – perhaps the revival is on!