As we approach the end of another year marked by collective angst over the economy, one bit of news has reminded us yet again how much clout emotion wields in the marketplace. Across the Atlantic, all it took to funnel a potential $1 billion into the British pipeline was a single woman and a single word:
As soon as Catherine Middleton accepted the proposal of Prince William and placed his late mother's stunning sapphire engagement ring on her finger, retailers, vendors, bankers, politicians and tourism officials started talking windfall instead of downfall.
The prospect of a royal wedding and a young princess who fancies feathers in her hair instantly pushed aside the gray clouds that have stubbornly hung over our British friends much the same way they have here. Souvenir Kate and William mugs flew onto dime store shelves practically overnight, while department stores rushed to get knock-offs of Kate's blue engagement dress onto their sales racks, and London hotels fantasized about packing in the tourists. The media also wins, not only through the number of eyeballs drawn to TV news coverage and blogs about the festivities, but through the fat special magazine editions (both online and print), quickie books and eventual movies-of-the-week, as well.
Inevitably, that giddy first response is now being tempered by grumbling in the business sector, which warns that the national holiday marking the union could actually end up costing five times what the April 29 wedding is expected to rake in, should too many workers decide to play hooky and extend their celebrations. Such bubble-bursting hardly matters, though.
Because the real symptom of recovery -- both here and abroad -- isn't the money. It's the mood.
We don't need algorithms or analysts to figure out that all the world loves a spectacle, and when it comes to happy spectacles, few can top a royal wedding. An estimated 1 billion people followed the July 29, 1981, wedding of Prince Charles and Lady Diana Spencer on television or radio. Now their son's nuptials will become the first social media royal wedding, which promises an even greater worldwide audience. For consumers, it also promises instant gratification: When the bride-to-be has her picture snapped on the street wearing her latest whimsical feather 'fascinator,' legions of copy-Kates will start Tweeting about it or launch a search on their smart-phones to place an online order for one of their own. This time, we're all engaged.
It's all enough to give us a bad bout of royal envy.
Seriously, the power of a little old-fashioned fairy tale to boost the national morale is something we could use here in the colonies. What have we got to work with? Anything? The Obama daughters are too young to marry off in glass coaches down Pennsylvania Avenue, and the alternative of junior high sock-hops in the State Dining Room just doesn't fill this particular void. Since Bristol Palin didn't win Dancing With the Stars, drop 30 pounds, turn Democrat, move in with Justin Timberlake and start a fashion line, what fantasies do we have left? Anyone?
You'll have to forgive us if we sound a little desperate. You have to understand that these days, everyone in our industry is obsessed with behavioral targeting, metrics and micro-targeting (with digital, there are now a zillion ways to measure who is seeing your ad, how long they are spending with it, what they do after they see it, the impact of customized message delivery, etc., etc., etc.). Sometimes, we have to confess, we feel woozy from all the data we've ingested like too much technological tryptophan. It just feels like we're forgetting that you can't sell anything if you don't create an emotional connection with people. That's why this wedding is such a sales booster. It makes people happy, if only for a little bit, to feel engaged with it.
Emotional engagement trumps rational interest every time. And events like the royal wedding give us hope. Hope, after all, is what politicians count on to influence voters; hope is what sells every perfume and cosmetic ever marketed to women. It's the marketing not of what is, but what could be. The possibilities, the potential. That's part of our vicarious thrill over Will and Kate's wedding, and what we're buying into: Every silver coin, etched mug, or faux-sapphire ring we buy connects us to them, making us feel part of something positive and joyous.
Sure, on some suppressed rational, intellectual level, we know it's fictional -- a love story of our collective imaginations -- and we realize, of course, that one day the bubble will burst. We'll come across some blog about William's feather fetish and secret lovechild with Bjork, or the paparazzi will catch Kate topless on a nameless island, canoodling with a Beefeater (who wouldn't, given the chance?) and then we'll mourn for them both (Will and Kate, not Bjork or the Beefeater -- sorry, someone's gotta play the villain).
Or maybe we'll just gloat a little. And introduce Bristol to Prince Harry.
Now that would be a feather in our cap.