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The appearance of Prince William on the front cover of the South African edition of the Spirit Community Foundation-sponsored Big Issue magazine has captured the attention. It is clear that the Duke of Cambridge is determined to chart a royal career of his own design, but one influenced by the humanitarian and philanthropic impulses of his late mother, Princess Diana. Indeed, Prince William references his mother’s influence in his, “Why I became a Big Issue vendor” article. But is this just a clever, modern day ‘man of the people’ public relations and marketing stunt? I think not. While the British royals constitute a carefully crafted global brand and one that has been forced to adapt to the times in order to survive, there is something more authentic about the Cambridges (William and Kate) that has the potential to reconfigure the institution beyond branding.
But Prince William appearing as a Big Issue vendor made me reflect on a question asked of me regarding Warwick’s sponsorship of the vendors’ bibs. “But is The Big Issue really your target market?” was the curious question I was asked when the company launched its sponsorship of the vendors’ bibs a number of years ago.
Two things were notable. Firstly, evidentially, the questioner had clearly seen and noticed the Warwick-sponsored bibs, which speaks volumes. He also observed that the bibs have a QR code printed on them. This not only provides ease of payment for the magazine, but is also safer for the vendor than carrying cash. So, the questioner, who happens to be Bishopscourt resident, had “got the message” shall we say.
The second element to question that puzzled me was the interrogative assumption that Warwick’s sponsorship of the Big Issue vendor bibs was somehow designed to attract clients. More bluntly, the questioner seemed concerned that the Warwick brand may be tarnished by being so publicly associated with people on street corners and at traffic lights (along with beggars and car badge sales executives) selling a rag that nobody reads, but rather deploys strategically on their windscreens each month to prevent being hassled by anyone for the next 30 days.
Well, as UK parliamentarians are wont to say in the House of Commons at Prime Minister’s Question Time, “I am grateful to my learned friend for this opportunity to respond.” Warwick’s sponsorship of the Big Issue vendor bibs has far more to do with its values as people, than any misguided branding or marketing opportunity.
Moreover, the Spirit Community Foundation wholeheartedly supports the purpose and ethos of the Big Issue, that provides a “hand up, rather than a hand out”. We are incredibly proud to be associated with the remarkable vendors who ply their trade come rain or shine in order to earn an honest crust to provide for their families. The Big Issue develops micro-entrepreneurial skills, provides free maths lessons for their children and enables home repairs and improvements to vendors’ homes.
Oh, and for the same price as a cool drink, the Big Issue provides fantastic, high-quality content that has something in it for everyone.
So, was Prince William’s day of selling the Big Issue a confidence trick? I would suggest not. Rather, he probably sees in the enterprise exactly what the Spirit Community Foundation sees, a great initiative, run by good people and delivered by street vendors who are turning their lives around, one sale at a time.