July 16, 2013 at 11:22 AM ET
Fifty journalists crammed into holding pens and interviewing each other while waiting for the royal baby is not a pretty sight.
It will get worse. Another 200 reporters are expected when the Duchess of Cambridge goes into labor in London’s St Mary’s hospital.
But while the scene brings curses and jokes to the lips of many passersby, for others it is manna from heaven.
Specifically, anyone with a product to sell is attracted to the gathering press like bees to honey. It is the lure of free publicity on a royal scale.
From a uniformed Prince Harry look-alike touting toys from upmarket Hambros to Haagen-Dazs vendors handing out free ice cream, from Costas boys distributing complimentary cups of coffee to some women from a mothering magazine offering free issues and discount subscriptions, the narrow street outside the exclusive Lindo maternity wing has become a commercial spectacle.
With nothing better to do, television cameramen and photographers swarm around the welcome distractions, gathering pictures and sound bites for their next story in the relentless news cycle.
“Cookies and cream, strawberry, pralines and cream,” a charming young woman from Haagen-Dazs offers with a smile. As she hands out little tubs, a wizened snapper (as photographers are called here) asks, “Got any Ben and Jerry then?” Everyone laughs.
Ceramic cups, diapers, baby bibs; all are on offer as manufacturers vie for their few free seconds on national and international television. Luxury cars drive by slowly in the hope of appearing in the background as a television correspondent speaks to the camera.
The police are sometimes unamused as attention-seekers block the street. Days ago, a Queen Elizabeth look-alike was trundled away by uniformed bobbies. The bomb squad checks lampposts, trash bins and unattended packages for bombs.
But mostly, Babywatch has become one giant marketing opportunity. The numbers soar with the telling: The latest newspaper estimate of potential sales related to the royal birth is close to $400 million.
There’s a lot of competition to sell these products, which have a very short shelf life. After all, after the birth comes the christening, and that will spark a whole new shelfload of products, based on the name of the future king or queen.
Moreover, it’s synergy: Bored photographers plus desperate retailers equal Sales.