For designers and retailers, Meghan Markle's influence cannot be overstated. Almost everything she wears sells out—even faster if it's at a relatively affordable price point—and her royal stamp of approval can boost a brand's sales in a way few other people can.
Bianca Gates, the co-founder of the shoe brand Birdies, which Meghan has worn publicly on multiple occasions, says the so-called "Markle Sparkle," is the kind of marketing "you cannot buy."
Or, at least you couldn't buy it before.
But now that Harry and Meghan have stepped away from their senior roles in the royal family, Meghan's endorsement, at least in theory, might be for sale.
The Sussexes sought financial independence when they left their positions as working royals, giving up other, perhaps more personal, aspects of their proposed plan—Prince Harry's honorary military appointments come to mind—in order to gain it. And Harry and Meghan made it clear that they intended to seek out private income as well, though they haven't explicitly spelled out what exactly that means. (The onset of the coronavirus crisis likely shifted any plans they had to launch their charity, Archewell, or kick off other, more lucrative initiatives.)
It seems unlikely that Meghan would become a full-fledged company spokesperson, endorsing products. And even if the Sussexes relaunch their social media presence, I don't think she'll be doing sponsored posts anytime soon. That kind of overt promotion would be an extreme shift in her own personal brand. But it does seem possible that Meghan might begin to receive free clothes and products, from brands hoping she'll be seen sporting their wares.
Gifting products to celebrities and other high-profile influencers is a common modern marketing practice. Brands will send high-profile influencers items for free in the hopes that they'll showcase them publicly.
The Duchess is certainly familiar with how things in this space work, given her pre-royal career as an actress with her own lifestyle blog. But when Meghan was serving as a representative of the Queen, and receiving public funding, there were numerous rules and protocols she had to abide by—one of which governed the type of gifts she was able to receive.
The introduction of the royal family's gift policy, which appears to have been most recently updated in 2003, reads as follow:
The fundamental principle governing the acceptance of gifts by Members of The Royal Family is that no gifts, including hospitality or services, should be accepted which would, or might appear to, place the Member of The Royal Family under any obligation to the donor. In this regard, before accepting any gift, careful consideration should always be given, wherever practicable, to the donor, the reason for and occasion of the gift and the nature of the gift itself. Equally, before declining the offer of a gift, careful consideration should be given to any offence that might be caused by such action.
The wording of this passage isn't entire clear—to whom, exactly, does this apply? Only working royals or a broader swatch of the family? But taking into account the lengths Harry and Meghan have gone to separate themselves financially from the institution of the monarchy, Meghan could indeed find herself untethered from these restrictions. (She would, though, still find herself subject to the necessary social media advertising and gifting rules, if she wanted to actively promote a gift.)
These gray areas mean that the Sussexes will probably proceed with extreme caution. "Obviously anybody would give them anything, but I think they're going to be really careful," says Elizabeth Holmes, the fashion journalist behind the buzzy "So Many Thoughts" Instagram series about royal style. Holmes notes that she didn't know for certain if Meghan would be able to receive clothes for free.
"I think that Meghan's power as a dresser will continue. There are so few people—even among celebrities—that have the kind of economic power to move merchandise the way that royal women do, so I hope and I think she’ll choose carefully."
Christine Ross, the creative director of Effervescence Media Group, a company that runs the popular royal fashion blog Meghan's Mirror, agrees. She thinks Meghan might begin to receive gifts from companies, but that she'll choose what to accept "responsibly."
"If an independent woman-owned brand reaches out to her and says 'Would you like to learn more about our brand, we’ll send you a necklace,' I could see that possibly happening," Ross says.
"But Meghan knows how influential her fashion choices are and how much of an economic phenomenon the Meghan effect is. We’ll never see her Instagramming flat tummy tea."
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