Why Meghan Markle’s lifestyle brand was always going to be a success

The Duchess of Sussex announced she’s launching a new lifestyle brand, and fans are anxiously waiting for its arrival. Amber Raiken speaks to experts about the brand’s savvy marketing strategy and how it’s a recipe for success

Thursday 30 May 2024 05:42
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(AFP via Getty Images)

Duchess of Sussex Meghan Markle is expanding her resume with her new lifestyle brand, American Riviera Orchard. Although she hasn’t launched the business to the general public yet, she’s quietly made its presence known, and fans are eagerly waiting to know more.

In March, Meghan announced American Riviera Orchard by launching its Instagram, which also marked her return to the platform. A video shared to the brand’s Instagram Story showed the Suits alum picking flowers and cooking in a kitchen, set to “I Wish You Love” by Nancy Wilson. The bio for the Instagram page simply reads: “by Meghan, The Duchess of Sussex⁣⁣⁣” and “Established in 2024”. There are only nine posts on the profile, which showcase the brand’s script-like logo and the word “Montecito” – the neighbourhood in California where Meghan, her husband Prince Harry, and their children, Archie, four, and Lilibet, two, live.

There’s little information on American Riviera Orchard’s website, which only includes the brand’s logo and a place for visitors to enter their emails, so they’ll be notified with updates about the company’s launch and new products. Details about the company are still scarce, although a March report from Page Six said the business will focus on home, garden, and general lifestyle content. Some of the items that will reportedly be sold include cookbooks, food, and kitchenware.

Last month, Meghan sent 50 jars of strawberry jam – each of which featured a handwritten number between one and 50 – to influencers and famous friends, including Chrissy Teigen and Suits co-star Abigail Spencer. Unsurprisingly, the two actors raved about the brand’s jam and how they can’t get enough of it. According to public relations experts, Meghan’s decision to send the jam to a select few and quietly rejoin Instagram were the best moves for her business.

Speaking to The Independent, Australia-based PR consultant Lucinda Pikkat – who’s worked with multiple fashion and food brands throughout the last 30 years – said she wasn’t surprised by Meghan’s rollout of the brand. She suggested it wasn’t shocking that Meghan is starting a business, considering it has been four years since she and Prince Harry stepped down from their roles as senior members of the royal family.

Real housewives of Orange County
Real housewives of Orange County (Tracy Robbins/Instagram)

“We forget that it’s been almost four and half years since they exited the royal family, so time has passed. I think they spent the first half of that time trying to share their story of what happened, and they did that with that Oprah Winfrey interview,” Pikkat said, referring to the couple’s bombshell conversation with the TV host in March 2021. “That was them resetting their narrative, and it’s now their time to rebuild their brand.”

However, Meghan isn’t a stranger to the lifestyle world. When she was still starring as attorney Rachel Zane in Suits in 2014, she launched her blog, The Tig, where she wrote about all things travel, food, fashion, and fitness-related. She often interviewed influential women in her life for the blog, as it was centered on civil rights issues and female empowerment. In 2017, one year before she tied the knot with Harry, the lifestyle blog officially shut down.

Even though Meghan is re-entering the realm of home goods and food with the launch of American Riviera Orchard, it’s still a new chapter of her career. Celebrity publicist Waylon Tate – the founder of J Waylon Associates, a public relations and marketing firm located in Dallas, Texas – addressed the importance of Meghan announcing her business on her own, after working alongside her husband on so many projects, including their 2022 Netflix documentary.

“What I’ve seen so far, although she’s been pretty clandestine about everything surrounding this new brand, is that it’s Meghan and it’s Meghan alone. You can even see that on Instagram. It’s not Meghan and Harry, it’s by Meghan,” Tate said. “This is the emancipation of Meghan. It is her saying: ‘I am a smart, savvy businesswoman. And here’s an introduction to my family on my terms.’”

Although we don’t know when Meghan’s products will be available to the public, the anticipation of their arrival is evident, with fans expressing their enthusiasm, and praising the minimal advertising for the business thus far.

“I can’t wait to see what else Meghan has for us on her American Riviera Orchard website. My money is ready,” one fan wrote on X, formerly known as Twitter, while another wrote: “#MeghanMarkle isn’t stupid. She knows exactly what she’s doing and doing it well. She has everyone, haters included, talking about #AmericanRivieraOrchard. Bravo Meghan.”

“Meghan, the Duchess of Sussex has a new brand coming, I don’t know what it is yet but I’m buying!” a third fan wrote on X in March. “Already on the waiting list to be informed when things drop.”

According to Tate, one of the reasons fans, specifically Americans, are so excited is because they have a love of royalty. When we see the products Meghan supposedly uses in her everyday life, we feel closer to her, and in turn, to a member of the royal family. “While she doesn’t have a working title anymore, she’s still the Duchess of Sussex,” the PR expert explained. “And I think, maybe, we’ve all been white-knuckling it to see how she’s going to use her post-marriage fame, or infamy, whatever you want to call it, as the bread and butter for her family.”

Pikkat agreed that Meghan is undoubtedly a polarising figure, so an immense interest in her brand was given from the start. The PR consultant also pointed out that Meghan’s decision to announce her brand only by creating an Instagram account, followed by one Instagram Story, was a savvy move. “She just shared a Story of herself, which I found really interesting,” Pikkat said about American Riviera Orchard’s quiet launch. “She created a well-produced video, done with her team, that just disappeared within 24 hours. I think that was intentional to get people to search for her company online, which I’ve done myself.”

As of May 28, the public only knows about one of American Riviera Orchard’s products, a strawberry jam, and it’s not because we’ve tried it ourselves. Last month, some of Meghan’s famous friends showed off the strawberry jams they’d received. And so far, the reviews say the treat is anything but ordinary. Model Chrissy Teigen shared a video on Instagram of her brie and bacon sandwich, which featured the strawberry jam. She later spoke to Entertainment Tonight about how “epic” the sandwich was, noting that the jam was so incredible she wants to avoid using it as much as possible. “I’m gonna keep [the jam] in my fridge forever,” the cookbook author said about savoring the spread. Actor Abigail Spencer also took to Instagram last month to show her support for her best friend’s brand. “This jam is my jam. A delicious taste of what’s to come indeed… love you so M,” the Grey’s Anatomy alum wrote in the caption.

According to Tate, Meghan’s decision to ship the jam to her well-known pals shows that she’s a business professional who knows how to build up excitement for what’s to come. “She’s saying: ‘Yes this is coming, but I’m just going to give a little on the inside of what it is,’” he said. “She’s being strategic with who she’s sending it to, most of them being women. I think this is going to be a strong, women-centric brand, and from a PR perspective, you have to provide the seeds in anticipation of the launch of the brand, even if you’re not going to do a full rollout.”

Despite the praise that American Riviera Orchard has received before it’s even available to the public, it hasn’t been free of criticism. Since it was announced in March, some have claimed that the business is struggling, with one source alleging to SkyNews Australia on April 29 that the lifestyle brand is still in search of a CEO.

Buckingham Palace also recently raised eyebrows after sharing a video of its very own strawberry jam, one month after Meghan announced her brand. In the video, the royal gift shop showed four ways to use its strawberry preserve, with the account encouraging followers to share how they “enjoy” their strawberry preserve in the comments. However, fans instead accused Buckingham Palace of being “shady” by promoting its jam as American Riviera Orchard is preparing its launch to the public.

But from a PR perspective, Pikkat praised Buckingham Palace for the timing of the post, which she believes was intentional. She also acknowledged how the discourse over the video, surrounding the royal shop and American Riviera Orchard, ultimately benefits both businesses. “The PR team over in Buckingham Palace is just riding Meghan’s popularity right now, and vice versa,” she said. “I think this will be a bit of a cat-and-mouse game, inevitably, but it’s working in both of their favors, since it’s creating conversation. I’m sure Meghan launching a jam, and now Buckingham Palace sharing their jams, has sold some jams for the royal shop.”

Real housewives of Orange County
Real housewives of Orange County (Tracy Robbins/Instagram)

Although Meghan and Harry are no longer senior royals, both Pikkat and Tate believe that the duchess’ company will continue to be compared to the businesses of the royal family. However, the couple appears focused on showing their new identities, such as with new projects about their lives in California. Last month, it was announced that as part of their reported $100m deal with Netflix, the couple will unveil two new television shows, including a polo series by Harry. Unsurprisingly, the second series is a cooking one by Meghan, where we’ll reportedly see her celebrate the joys of gardening, entertaining, and friendship. While we don’t know what kitchenware American Riviera Orchard will be launching, Tate said he expects the items to make an appearance.

“The show is going to act as a supportive source for pushing out those products,” the celebrity publicist said. “Every frame is going to include product placement, I’m almost 100 percent sure of that. You know they’ll be bottling their jam, or they’ll be using the American Riviera Orchard blender.”

While Meghan is not the first celebrity to create a brand, PR experts believe that her business will be the next big thing. According to Tate, it’s because when customers buy from celebrity brands, they’re not buying for the products, they’re buying into the lifestyle that stars are living. He noted that fans remain aware of who they’re buying from, so he wouldn’t be shocked to see products from Meghan’s brand sell out right away.

“We’ll see when this launches but to my understanding, the business is germane to who she is as an all-American girl. I guess you could say that she just happens to be a princess or duchess, but I think we’re going to see her differently,” he said. “I think we’re going to see her actually – maybe even through the shows on Netflix – in the kitchen, cooking with her and placements. Coming in from her garden with strawberries.”

Pikkat shared her belief that Meghan’s business could even reach the success of celebrity lifestyle brand, Goop, which was founded by Gwyneth Paltrow in 2008, and which has been valued at $250m. She also suggested American Riviera Orchard could be built to last because it’s not being launched at a fast pace, with the slow build showing that the duchess trusts her audience.

“If she were to launch a huge brand with multiple products, I think that would dilute the intention and authenticity around what she’s trying to do,” Pikkat explained. “There’s discourse around it now and a lot of divisive opinions, but that’s sort of what happened when Goop launched. And now that’s just part of it being born. I think people accept it for being a success and I think that’s going to be the same with Meghan.”

The Independent has contacted a representative for Meghan for comment.

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