This, argues Rory Sutherland, vice chairman of adland giant Ogilvy, is short-term thinking. A Royal Warrant helps overseas sales – no American can buy a product with a presidential seal of approval, he points out, but its true value lies in something entirely antithetical to influencer culture. For a company to earn a Warrant, its products have to be in regular use by the specific senior Royal for at least five years out of the preceding seven.
“It’s something that is slow to be approved and slow to be withdrawn – like a special Amazon rating showing that a business will behave more ethically and be averse to what Karl Marx called the ‘icy water of egotistical calculation,’” he explains. “There is a moral and ethical dimension to the selection – the Royal family were decisive in demoralising fur wearing in the UK, for instance, and Jaguar Land Rover is pushing its electric cars very hard. True, the Royal influence is not as powerful as it was in the Edwardian era, where the King leaving the bottom button of his waistcoat undone set the national trend, but there’s a heuristic that if the Queen buys something it must at least be all right.”
For Land Rover, a subsidiary of India’s Tata Motors since 2008, this is all theoretical. In 1990, the classic no-frills vehicle was relaunched as the Land Rover Defender (to distinguish it from the marque’s sister models, Discovery and Freelander), but in January 2016 the final car rolled off the production line at Solihull after 68 years – a victim of tougher emissions and safety laws.
In 2020, the replacement Defender was launched to stunned reviews – all the magic of the stripped-down rough rider that Her Majesty could fix with a spanner was gone. It had finally morphed into a status symbol machine beloved of footballers’ wives and wealthy west Londoners, a million miles from its roots. No wonder Prince Philip decided to make his own.
So sturdy were the original banged-together hard-working 4x4s that some 75 per cent of the originals are believed to have survived, including the first model donated to George VI, which was found buried under some junk in a garage in Ballater, Aberdeenshire. Prince Charles saw the car there in 2007 on a tour of local businesses but seemed perfectly content to leave the thing there.
Perhaps that’s the future for both Land Rovers and Royal Warrants alike, argues Alger. “Considering the diminishing awareness of this age-old marketing mechanism, we’re likely to see the Royal family demonstrate their brand advocacy in more contemporary ways,” she argues. “The Warrant could be seen as one of the earliest forms of influencer marketing. It’s built on the same principle – audience affinity and brand advocacy. We’re more likely to buy a product when we see it modelled on someone we relate to or aspire to be like. As seen with Prince George posing with a Land Rover, for instance.”