Brand Health Check: The Queen's Xmas message

It is as synonymous with Christmas as turkey with trimmings, but the annual broadcast is losing its appeal.

Each year more than 7m people stop shovelling turkey into their mouths for long enough to listen to the Queen's Christmas broadcast.

Queen Elizabeth II has delivered her annual message to the Commonwealth diligently every year since 1952, with the exception of 1969, when a written message was issued instead. Though it has been televised since 1957, it has not been broadcast live since 1960.

In 1962, following poor ratings, the Queen's private secretary Sir Michael Adeane blamed the advent of television. '(It) has ruined the whole thing. The Queen is gay and relaxed beforehand, but in front of the cameras she freezes.'

For a 10-minute event that generally throws up few surprises, the Christmas broadcast has courted an unusual amount of controversy over the years.

In the 80s, the Queen was condemned by former Conservative cabinet minister Enoch Powell for pointing out the widening wealth gap between rich and poor nations. Somewhat more recently, Jeremy Paxman this month branded the annual broadcast dull and called into question its future.

Since 1993, the Queen has faced stiff competition for the eyes and ears of the nation not only from an increasing number of TV channels, but also from an alternative Christmas message broadcast by Channel 4.

The latter's presenters have included Rory Bremner, Ali G, Sharon Osbourne, Marge Simpson and Jamie Oliver. More serious alternative messages have come from Genelle Guzman, a survivor of the 11 September terrorist attacks on New York, and the parents of murdered teenager Stephen Lawrence.

This year the Queen goes head-to-head in the ratings war with a British Muslim woman from the Midlands. Khadija Ravat, who will be dressed in full niqab, will reflect on issues from the controversy over the publication of cartoons featuring the Prophet Mohammed to the right to wear religious symbols. Her Majesty can at least count on Ravat's support, who has said she will be watching the Queen rather than her own broadcast.

By all accounts, Her Majesty would not miss the annual chore were it to be axed. Since that is unlikely, we asked Terry Hunt, chairman of EHS Brann, and Sue Farr, director of Chime Communications, how our monarch can make her broadcast the most watched this Christmas.

DIAGNOSIS 1 - TERRY HUNT CHAIRMAN, EHS BRANN

The Queen is nice enough but I have never been an avid viewer of her Christmas message.

Coming from a long line of grumpy republicans, I can't fathom why anyone would want to stop gorging on Quality Street to sit through what the Windsors have been doing with themselves all year.

It is the broadcast equivalent of those round-robin letters that self-obsessed couples inflict on family and friends, boasting about their kids' genius and their latest 4x4. No wonder C4's alternative message is growing in popularity and that Deal or No Deal will attract millions more viewers than our sovereign.

As a reality-TV format, the royal family has been in decline since Prince Edward took them into Jeux Sans Frontieres and out the other side. Simon Cowell's creations have introduced us all to mobs of fascinating and dispensable minor celebs who don't expect taxpayer subsidies and are more fun to gossip about.

But I might take a look this year if only to confirm the prejudices I share with the rest of my grumbling minority.

REMEDY

- Make this year the last and replace it with a 10-minute silence so that we can reflect on the state of the world.

- Put a red button on screen that takes you straight to a debt-consolidation ad.

- Start Christmas lunch 10 minutes early and don't switch on the TV.

- Feature live viewer texts giving a running commentary on HRH's performance.

- Sell the royal family to Endemol and let it produce next year's message.

DIAGNOSIS 2 - SUE FARR DIRECTOR, CHIME COMMUNICATIONS

In the midst of all the harrowing headlines about Polonium 210 poisoning, the Ipswich murders and our cricket team's struggles Down Under, we are in dire need of some Christmas cheer.

The festive season offers us all a welcome break. It is a chance to relax, reconnect with family and friends, reflect on the year behind and the year ahead and to try to find some calm in our often chaotic lives.

Among the excitement of Christmas Day, the Queen's broadcast offers a moment of calm. In fact, I wonder whether the Queen and her message are actually more relevant than one might imagine?

Her values, devotion to her country and enduring presence provide a constant in an ever-changing world. Perhaps that is why 7m people still tune in. Moreover, as interest in the younger Royals - particularly William and Harry (not to mention Kate and Chelsy!) - grows, perhaps a new audience will come to enjoy listening, as their parents and grandparents once did.

Would I change it? Well no, not a lot. Its very strength lies in its consistency. continuity.

REMEDY

- Make the transcript of the speech available both online and offline.

- Encourage Her Majesty to make more references to her family, particularly her grandchildren, and to speak of her interaction with them.

- Coerce all broadcasters, whether public-service or commercial, to trail the speech to build a bigger audience.

- Top and tail the broadcast with clips from the year, including some Royal moments.

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