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Inside the $356 million business of Queen Elizabeth’s Platinum Jubilee

There are complex rules governing how to use the royal emblem, but companies stand to make a lot of money from the Platinum Jubilee.

Inside the $356 million business of Queen Elizabeth’s Platinum Jubilee
[Source Photos: Picture Post/IPC Magazines/Hulton Archive/Getty Images, Julia August/iStock/Getty Images Plus, Rosemary Calvert/Getty Images, Richard Bailey/Cobis/Getty Images]

In the United Kingdom, Queen Elizabeth II is celebrating her Platinum Jubilee with parades, gun salutes, and 240 horse marches. Around the world, companies are trying to profit from the excitement with limited edition Platinum Jubilee products: from $5 sandwiches to $75 Barbies to $1,255 Samsung refrigerators emblazoned with the British flag.

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[Photo: Mattel]
Commemorative memorabilia is big business. In the U.K. alone, consumers are expected to spend $356 million on Platinum Jubilee goods, according to the Centre for Retail Research; and around the world, that figure will soar even higher. But while anyone can create and sell products that feature Queen Elizabeth II and the Platinum Jubilee, there are complex rules around it.

According to official documents disseminated by the royal family, anyone designing products around the Platinum Jubilee must abide by certain guidelines. For instance, they must use the correct version of the Jubilee emblem and the Royal Arms; images of the Queen can be used as long as the photographer is paid; and the Queen’s official monogram (known as her cypher) cannot be used on T-shirts and tea towels. The guidelines make it clear that it’s a “privilege” to be able to create products featuring the royal family and that they must be “in good taste” and “carry no implication of Royal . . . approval.”

[Screenshot: Halcyon Days]
According to William H. Honaker, an attorney with three decades of experience in patents and trademarks, these laws are unlike the way that other companies—or indeed other heads of state—control the use of their name, image, or trademarks. “It’s as if the royal family is giving businesses the gift of being able to generate revenue from this celebration,” he says. “Anybody can create products with these emblems and sell them, as long as they abide by the trademark law.”

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Honaker says these laws apply to the United Kingdom but aren’t enforced on companies that operate overseas. No matter where the products originate, he says it would be very hard to enforce these rules given the volume of products flooding the market. “It is very difficult to police the products coming out around the world,” says Honaker. The rules governing the use of royal emblems is relatively lenient, he says, but when it comes to the Jubilee, the royal family seems to be offering even more freedom around the creation of these products.

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Brands are certainly taking advantage of this, creating countless limited-edition products for the Jubilee. In the U.K., the London-based retailer Marks & Spencer has a whole line of Platinum Jubilee items, including a sandwich featuring a sliced hard-boiled egg that was widely mocked online. On Amazon, there are thousands of memorabilia items from cushions to tote bags to bobbleheads of the queen. Global brands, including Mattel and Samsung, are also capitalizing on the celebration with their own limited-edition products. “Brands that I have purchased from in the past are sending me emails about their Platinum Jubilee products for sale,” says Mona Moufahim, associate professor in marketing and retail at the University of Stirling in Scotland. “Everybody is trying to cash in.”

[Photo: Samsung]
The royal family doesn’t profit directly from the sale of these goods, but Moufahim notes that these products—even the kitschy, tacky ones—can generate a lot of goodwill. “It contributes positively to the royal family because it makes their brand part of pop culture,” she says. “Some of these products are silly and a bit weird, but they still contribute to making the royal family iconic in the cultural and political landscape of Britain.”

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And if companies want to take it a step further, they can apply for a royal warrant, whereby the royal family gives its seal of approval—quite literally, since products are stamped with a seal that says, “By appointment to HM The Queen.” These companies must pay an undisclosed licensing fee, which goes to the Royal Collection Trust, a fund that supports charities chosen by the royal family. One such company, Halcyon Days, has issued a collection of 30 products for the Jubilee, including $1,200 enamel boxes featuring photos of the queen at her 1953 coronation and a $2,750 music box featuring pictures of four royal residences. “Official memorabilia is tightly controlled,” says Moufahim. “These items are actually presented and approved by the queen, which makes them much more valuable.” There are around 800 companies that have royal warrants; to qualify they have to go through a rigorous vetting process, including meeting the palace’s sustainability standards.

One interesting quirk of the trademark law, Honaker says, is that brands are allowed to use images, emblems, and terminology related to the Platinum Jubilee on their products, but they can’t use them in their advertising and marketing. A manufacturer can advertise a limited edition Platinum Jubilee car but can’t advertise it as the “Platinum Jubilee of cars.” In other words, a company is only allowed to create products that celebrate and draw attention to the royal family, not use the royal family’s popularity to enhance its own brand.

That said, the royal family has been embroiled in scandals in recent years that have diminished its popularity, including Harry and Meghan‘s tell-all interview with Oprah and allegations about Prince Andrew‘s inappropriate relationships with underage girls. Moufahim says this Jubilee is an opportunity to refocus the world’s attention squarely on the queen, who has remained consistently popular over the past decade. Recent data show that 81% of British people have a favorable opinion of her. “The scandals have had an impact,” Moufahim says. “But the queen’s popularity is through the roof, and this Jubilee is an opportunity to lean into that.”

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Even if that means seeing her face on a Jubilee Barbie.

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About the author

Elizabeth Segran, Ph.D., is a senior staff writer at Fast Company. She lives in Cambridge, Massachusetts

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