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Kate Middleton’s photoshop fail is an exercise in marketing gone terribly wrong

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Kate Middleton’s photoshop fail is an exercise in marketing gone terribly wrong

Kate Middleton

The royal family is no stranger to controversy. In recent years alone, they have navigated scandals such as Harry and Meghan’s unceremonious exit, allegations of Prince Andrew’s sexual abuse, and accusations of an unnamed royal’s racist behaviour. The latest gaff from Kate Middleton and Kensington Palace, however, reads like a marketing strategy gone terribly wrong. 

On 18 January, the palace announced that Kate Middleton, the Princess of Wales, was having abdominal surgery and would be taking a step back from royal duties to recover. The short statement coincided with Prince Charles announcing that he was undergoing treatment for an undisclosed form of cancer. Since then, details have been scarce. This is not unusual, and the royals have been historically private when it comes to revealing any information about their health. Instead, hiding behind the adage “never complain, never explain”.

Where is Kate Middleton?

Despite the statements, the internet was awash with conspiracy theories and “Where is Kate?” began to trend. Some of the theories were serious (Has she died? Is she divorcing William?) but many were in jest (as anyone who has seen the BBL theory can attest to). After weeks of online speculation, Kensington Palace released an official photo of Kate to the media on Mother’s Day in the UK. It was also the first authorised photo of her since Christmas. 

The photo in question is innocent enough at first glance. It contains a smiling Kate flanked by her three children – Louis, George and Charlotte. The caption read “Thank you for your kind wishes and continued support over the last two months. Wishing everyone a Happy Mother’s Day. C.” Simple, to-the-point, but effective? No way. 

This was the image designed to end months of speculation and conspiracy theories, and restore faith in the public that there was nothing sinister afoot with the Prince and Princess of Wales. This was simply a PR tactic designed to say “Nothing to see here. Maintain your faith and trust in our business”. Instead, the royals made one of the biggest mistakes a brand can make.

Not long after the release of the photo, it was recalled by the world’s major photo agencies and a “kill notice” was issued to halt further distribution of the image. “At closer inspection, it appears that the source has manipulated the image,” the AP notice read. The glaring gaff in question was an inconsistency around the sleeve of Charlotte’s jumper. Other areas in the photo that appeared to be manipulated included Kate’s zipper, a tile pattern, Charlotte’s hair, lines around the doorstep and a sweater pattern.

Where does the truth lie?

In a post-truth world where AI and deep-fakes abound, what does messaging like this do to a brand? Naturally, the palace was quick to respond with an apology from Kate explaining the errors occurred due to her experimentation with editing. But the damage has already been done. 

If we consider the royal family a business, which we should, then we must allow that one of its key brand messages is trust. For centuries, the royal business has garnered respect and admiration from the public because they are trusted leaders. We are convinced by careful messaging and media manipulation that it is doing good in the world, that its members are righteous and true, and most importantly, that the existence of a royal family in our modern world (amid calls for a republic) is still necessary and important. 

Only time will tell what damage this photo scandal has done to the royal brand and its most popular members. However, there is no denying that Brand Royal is in deep trouble and this latest controversy only means more of us aren’t buying what the palace is selling.

Image attributed to the Prince and Princess of Wales/Instagram.


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January Jones

January Jones is a freelance writer.

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