Raymond Snoddy on media: Harry's tour was perfect manoeuvre

It may be only March, but just as it is obvious that BBC business editor Robert Peston's Northern Rock disclosures will win every journalism award going, so the marketing campaign of the year is already clear.

Only the highest praise will do when you take on not one, but two thoroughly tarnished brands, come up with an unambiguously winning campaign and have the media on your side week in, week out.

Lord Saatchi eat your heart out. Unless, of course, Lord Saatchi was secretly involved; you never quite know with these sorts of brands who does what to whom.

In any case, whoever it was, it is impossible to heap too much praise on those who were responsible for the marketing of the 'number-three slot' in the royal succession stakes.

First, you have to acknowledge that the basic brand, royalty, has been in dire need of refreshment. There have, of course, been some bright spots. The ravings of Mohamed Al Fayed at the Diana inquest have been enough to make anyone sympathetic to the Duke of Edinburgh, a remarkable thing by anyone's standards. The rehabilitation of Camilla prior to her second marriage was also deftly handled. But how do you solve a problem like Prince Harry?

Lots of headlines, of course, but all of the wrong sort; drunken antics in the early hours, Nazi uniforms as a jolly jape and the usual on-off girlfriend stuff.

Then there is the Ministry of Defence (MoD). When confidential laptops are not being mislaid and essential body armour never there to be lost in the first place, it is in severe need of an image overhaul. Moreover, when 'sales' in the form of recruitment are inevitably hit by the effect of news of roadside bombs and mortar attacks, something needs to be done.

Surprisingly, the solution was there all the time - send Prince Harry to Afghanistan.

In one brilliant military manoeuvre, the reputations of the Prince, the entire royal family and the MoD have been transformed, at the same time boosting recruitment numbers.

Was there ever such a win-win promotional campaign? The only slight problem was the secrecy issue. In the world of the web, the concern was how to stop the Taliban getting their hands on a perfectly sincere and brave young man and, more to the point, his colleagues.

Such a thing is surely impossible in today's world. Even if the British media could be persuaded to operate a total news blackout, it would inevitably leak instantly somewhere else.

Instead, almost inconceivably, it worked brilliantly. Inevitably, the Taliban knew all along, probably because they routinely monitor the websites of Australian women's magazines. But that didn't really matter. No one in the UK knew, and that was what would have caused the fuss.

What can you say about those wonderful pooled pictures of Widow-Six-Seven in action? They could not have been more perfect. Informal, authentic footage of Harry firing a machine gun and calling in bomber support for the guys on the ground. No blood or controversy. It was almost as if the MoD scripted a fictional war documentary - and you can't say fairer than that.

It was perhaps slightly unfortunate bringing Harry back on a plane carrying soldiers with missing limbs, whom he described as 'the real heroes'. It momentarily distracted onlookers from the happy, uncritical tale.

Unbelievably, there is still one remaining marketing victory to be wrung from this rich mix, and it was Harry himself who provided the clue when he said that the food rations given to our soldiers are 'miserable'. It is a case for Jamie Oliver, suggested the young prince.

Now is that a good idea or what? Nothing like spicy prawns and rocket salad to drive recruitment.

30 SECONDS ON ... PRINCE HARRY

- Prince Harry's full title is His Royal Highness Prince Henry of Wales. His full name is Henry Charles Albert David and he was born on 15 September 1984.

- Prince Harry holds the rank of Second Lieutenant in the Blues and Royals regiment of the Household Cavalry of the British Army.

- Harry was initially trained as a tank commander, but after the decision not to send him to Iraq, he retrained as a battlefield air controller, the job he had been filling in Afghanistan.

- He served on the front line in Afghanistan between 14 December and 29 February, for a total of 77 days.

- German newspaper Bild and Australian magazine New Idea were the first to report rumours of his deployment on 7 January, followed by a story on US website Drudge Report on 28 February.

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