The Power of Sensationalism in Communications


In advance of the already highly controversial interview between Oprah Winfrey, Meghan Markle and Prince Harry, the Duke of Sussex surprised us all with an interview on The Late Late Show with James Corden just over a week ago now.

In his first interview since stepping back from his duties within the Royal Family, the Prince took part in a seemingly relaxed, natural, and spontaneous interview with TV host and friend, James Corden.

And whilst it appeared to be off-the-cuff and completely un-staged, it would have in fact, been quite the opposite.

This interview highlighted the true power of sensationalism within communications, provoking public interest, telling Harry’s side of the story, and defining his position as a brand.

Matthew Hayes, Managing Director of Midlands-based brand agency Champions (UK) plc, explains why he thinks the interview proves that Harry, the Duke of Sussex understands his brand power, allowing him to reposition himself within the industry.

Matthew Hayes

“The interview was completely unexpected and caught everybody off guard. We were all so eagerly anticipating his and Meghan’s upcoming interview with Oprah that we hadn’t even considered he would perhaps look at other options,” he said.

The Late Late Show almost goes against his previous branding as a member of the Royal Family.

Matthew said, “It was great to see Harry doing Harry.

“Throughout the entire interview, Harry displayed his true personality and owned it. And in terms of branding and positioning, he knocked it out of the park.

“I believe that Harry achieved what he had set out to do, which was to change the narrative by telling his side of the story and ultimately change the public’s opinion of him.”

And in doing so, the interview amassed more than 15 million views on YouTube in under a week, proving that anticipation doesn’t always equate to more impact.

More than just a Prince

Providing a glimpse into family Zoom calls with his grandparents, Harry used this interview as a way to demonstrate he is more than just a Prince, but a father, husband, son, and grandson, too.

“Harry managed to find his own brand identity whilst remaining all of those things, as well as continuing to work in public service. He owned and delivered it in a way that I can only describe as genius.”

By changing the narrative and telling his story, Harry proved that he is much more than everybody has perceived him as.

The Duke of Sussex isn’t the only person within this industry to change and reposition his brand.

Snoop Dogg is renowned for having more than one persona and this has become a part of his brand identity. From gangster to rapper, actor and more recently, the star of Just Eat’s latest marketing campaign, Snoop is recognised for exactly that – proving the power of branding.

Clever and controversial marketing

After watching the Prince’s interview with James Corden ahead of his sit-down chat with Oprah Winfrey, many of us have been left wondering which really came first – or was this a part of the plan all along?

Matthew explains why he thinks it was a clever marketing ploy:

“I believe that this interview came first as a deliberate way for Harry to define his brand and lay down the law prior to appearing on Oprah.

“Many of us, myself included, assumed that Oprah would be his first (and possibly last) exclusive interview, but what this has done is create a buzz and even more anticipation ahead of its airing.

“Before watching Harry with James, I may not have even considered sitting down to watch his appearance on Oprah, and I expect this to be the case for many others, too.”

It was recently announced that ITV have bought the rights to Harry and Meghan’s interview with Oprah for £1M, with it set to air at 9pm on March 8.

While some may call this controversial, and it may be, Matthew believes it to be clever and tactful marketing.

He said, “Harry’s appearance on The Late Late Show will no doubt boost viewing figures for his interview with Oprah, making it somewhat of a teaser.

“Mystery and anticipation are remarkable ways to tell a story, which is exactly what both Harry and Meghan have done here.”

Digital storytelling expert and founder of Play Human, Matthew Scott also explains the benefits of controversial marketing and why it is so impactful.

He explains, “Simply, controversy appeals to consumers and it grabs their attention. But more importantly, it raises a point and sparks debate, which is key when it comes to storytelling, particularly within branding.

“Telling a story with an edge of controversy or challenge is a good thing and is what leads to change.”

The future of sensationalism

Matthew Hayes predicts that following this seemingly controversial yet clever act of sensationalism and storytelling, many brands will begin to follow suit.

“Already, Prince Harry has gained such tremendous traction from one short interview, so just imagine the publicity after Monday evenings show.

“Brands will see the benefits of working in this manner, albeit slightly controversially, but that it really does work and will garner seriously impressive results.

“I am one of those people who perhaps frowned upon Harry’s decision to officially leave the Royal Family. 

However, after watching his interview with James Corden, my perception of the whole matter has completely changed, which I guess was the aim of the game, right? Well, it worked – for me, anyway.”


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