Let’s start with the good news, Brand Britain continues to be the most important asset this country has. It is a beautifully complex conundrum of a brand, with rich connotations for people all over the world. Protecting and sustaining this asset, especially in a time of such change and uncertainty, leans heavily on the advertising community.
A national narrative is a truly organic living thing, however, it isn’t always linked to tangible realities. It’s important to note that ‘Brand Britain’ is always just an idea - there are over 63 million Brits, all of whom are stakeholders in this thing that is ‘Britain’ and consensus, of course, is difficult (if not impossible).
However, nations need narratives to give people identity and justification for their personality and way of life. It delivers so many of the human desires that we at Starcom believe sit right at the heart of our decisions and motivations – purpose, belonging and connection.
I’m not going to go into a history lesson but it’s essential to point out that British history is one the major factors which have impacted what Brand Britain is today. The myth of ‘Brand Britain’ dates back to Geoffrey of Monmouth in 1136, where he records the ancient Kings of Britain and described this as a powerful golden age.
Additionally, our position in the world geographically speaking has an impact on the meaning behind the brand, as it’s right at the heart of Greenwich Mean Time, making it a perfect position for global trade and a landing point for traders and travelers. Over the many years, travelers have brought back to Britain languages, fashions and ideas - and have made them their own and incorporated them into British culture today.
Our island’s size too has an influence on how Brits communicate – if you don’t have size and muscle, then you have to be witty and wise, and deal through communication. This can certainly be seen with how Brits are known to be terribly polite and reserved, whilst being simultaneously sarcastic and sometimes even rude.
So, whether you are a British brand that wants to sell to the world or a global brand who wants to truly resonate with a British audience – understanding what ‘Britishness’ means is important especially in these turbulent times. Even more importantly, what is the future of Brand Britain? How must it evolve so that in 50 years’ time we will be celebrating the codes and myths generated from today?
Social commentators both here in the UK and globally, believe Britain is facing an identity crisis. This has accumulated from factors such as Brexit and the advancement of technology, which has brought unprecedented economic and social change. It has provided people with more knowledge, empowerment and transparency than ever experienced before. However, with knowledge comes fake information and with transparency comes lack of trust in our leaders – which creates an uncertain future for Britain.
Over the years, researchers have looked at the cultural codes of Britishness, to try and distill what Britishness really means. A common conclusion is that it’s a tangled identity – as Brits are formal but funny, traditional but transgressive and polite but profane. As a result, it is argued that the best way to define Britishness, is that it’s a series of paradoxes.
The brands that understand and tap into these different codes of Britishness, are perceived as more authentic and tend to be more successful. Therefore, diversity is key for the advertising industry and a great example of this is shown by John Lewis, who has multiple nationalities that work on the British legendary John Lewis Christmas advert.
Another example is the Great British Bake Off which successfully taps into the different codes of Britishness. The TV programme mocks the reserved British stereotype while simultaneously celebrating Britain with the show’s gay presenters and octogenarian judge.
Then take Boris Johnson, he treads the line along the mass and the elite transgressions perfectly. But the Prince of Britishness has to be, of course, Prince Harry. He is an underdog prince who has fought in the army, been pictured half-naked in Vegas, launched the Invictus Games, and married a mixed race American. He has the gravitas of a royal but still is one of us. Harry is the definition of an authentic paradox and can definitely teach brands a lesson or two today - especially during this turbulent, identity crisis era.
Jodie Stranger is CEO UK Group & President Global Clients EMEA of Starcom