Archie Harrison Mountbatten-Windsor’s adorable cameo was, let’s be honest, the best thing about Prince Harry and Meghan Markle’s otherwise not especially compelling first podcast for Spotify.
After a rather dull half-hour—a laundry list of their influential and celebrity pals complaining about how tough 2020 had been for them—Archie’s “Happy New Year,” accompanied by Harry’s giggling and trademark ‘Boom!’ in the background, was a truly uplifting and inspirational moment.
Harry and Meghan, of course, would have known exactly what they were doing. They knew Archie’s first publicly spoken words would make news all over the world, despite the fact that the podcast itself failed to make the Top 5 of Spotify’s global charts. They are unlikely to be complaining this weekend about being upstaged by their 18-month old son, given that they stage-managed his public debut.
However, Archie’s public appearance on the podcast does raise a number of intriguing questions about how the couple intend to use Archie’s star appeal to boost their own profile.
First, it’s important to be clear that, just because you may decide to release a few pictures, or a video or audio clip of your kids online, that does not mean you are signing consent forms to be dive-bombed by paparazzi drones.
But, at the same time, they have signed a reputed $30m deal to create content for Spotify, and an argument could easily be made that Archie’s first words have been monetized by the couple.
No matter how noble their intentions to produce positive and uplifting and worthy content, there is undeniably a tension between their oft-professed desire for privacy and their apparent willingness to use Archie as a killer marketing hook on which to hang their new podcast.
The Mail on Sunday, currently being sued by Meghan for invasion of privacy, may well be rejoicing at Archie’s spoken-word debut. Albeit carefully selective, self-invasion of one’s own privacy is perhaps not the wisest course when suing someone else for it.
And the issue of marketing Master Archie is unlikely to go away.
Aliza Licht, a podcaster and founder and president of Leave Your Mark LLC, a creative brand marketing and digital strategy consultancy, who sits on the board of the American Influencer Council, told The Daily Beast that for Harry and Meghan, the task now is to figure out exactly how they want to “leverage” their child’s appeal without harming him, a challenge that many other first-generation internet stars are also grappling with.
She said: “When creators and influencers grow up, what is their brand extension? Well, they have babies and get baby deals. Archie is a tool in Meghan and Harry’s tool belt. They are naturally going to be extremely protective of him, and the beauty of a podcast is that it is a very safe space to do something like this. They were able to leverage him in a very controlled way. They clearly felt comfortable exposing him in the context of a podcast, where the exposure is limited to the ear.”
Licht said that for Harry and Meghan, onboarding Archie into brand Sussex makes good business sense: “They know he is the next big thing in their world as far as their marketing machine and recognition goes. So they are setting the stage for what it is going to be like as he grows up, and what his involvement will be in their brand.”
While many normal people would no doubt feel hugely squeamish about using their children as marketing tools, the reality is that those inside the branding industry are well used to reckoning the value of people, including children, as products.
David Kippen, CEO of Evviva Brands and the company’s chief strategist told The Daily Beast: “If you think about this from a brand standpoint, and think about the people as the products of the brands, then Harry and Meghan’s brand is an extension of the brand of the British royal family. They have created distance between themselves and the parent brand. The master brand is very well known and very conservative, while the spin-off brand extension is able to be more racy and do things the parent brand can’t do. Archie is the next extension of the brand.”
But is pushing forward Archie the right thing to do? Kippen said an important consideration is to think about what happens when you “roll the clock forward 20 years.”
Essentially the question then becomes not how Archie can benefit his parents but whether his parents’ decision to give Archie a public profile (which it is fair to assume, on the evidence of this podcast at least, that they intend to do) will benefit him?
Kippen believes that while it is a sensitive issue, bringing Archie into the limelight, albeit in a limited way, is the right thing for Harry and Meghan to do.
“By controlling the way he is involved in their enterprise at an early age they are giving him a place on the platform. This is about beginning the process of naming and claiming his territory. That’s what branding is,” he said.
Kippen said Harry and Meghan putting Archie’s clip on the podcast is “absolutely not exploitative” of their son.
“I don’t think it’s exploitative. They have plenty of star power. They can claim all the attention they want. This isn’t the parent riding on the coat tails of their beauty pageant-winning kid.”
The issue of the massive paychecks the couple have reportedly received from their deals with streamers could yet trip them up, of course.
The perception spun in some narratives that Meghan and Harry have sold out for the primary purpose of financing a luxury lifestyle could be very harmful to them. Brands based on authenticity don’t do well when accusations of hypocrisy start to stick.
Meghan and Harry would do well, Licht suggests, to get their foundation up, running and doing good works, jump-started with a healthy donation from the estimated $130m pot they have so far reaped from their Spotify and Netflix deals.
“Nearly all new direct-to-consumer brands in the past five to 10 years have started with a foundation of cause marketing. Brands from 20 years ago, with no cause have had to reverse engineer that messaging and build in a do-good component,” Licht said.
“The consumer wants to know what you stand for. Meghan and Harry have been extremely vocal about a whole range of important causes. That’s wonderful, now they need to put their money where their words are. The more good they actually do in the world, the less easy it will be for their critics to say negative things about them.”
Hugh Bateman, a London-based independent brand strategist, told the Daily Beast: “Baby Archie is a valuable sub-brand of Harry and Meghan. I think they have already crossed the Rubicon in terms of branding their family. Any pretensions to privacy have gone out the window since they sold their souls to Netflix and Spotify—but at least those deals will enable them to curate and manage their brand with their commercial partners. Love them or hate them, you know who they are, and they won’t suffer the ultimate media failure: obscurity.”