Arch Monarchists and fundamentalist Republicans alike, have not been shy of expressing their opinions about the state of the age-old concept of ‘Britishness’ of late.
The Queen’s Diamond Jubilee, the twice yearly St George’s flag-a-thon that characterises England’s woeful involvement in another international football tournament and the widely successful London Olympics have raised the usual questions of what it means to be British.
Throw the “Scottish Question” into the mix and you have an immensely complex and highly emotive concoction that is at once fascinating, confusing and somewhat depressing.
Back in June, we were apparently said to be a nation of people far more at ease with itself in the light of the pomp and pageantry of the Queen’s Diamond Jubilee. We were proud of ourselves, our Queen, our terrible weather, our tea parties and our ‘Keep Calm and Carry On’ attitude.
We were proud of our Imperial legacy. We were proud of our diversity. We were proud of our 300 year old union of four nations. A national state event had given voice to those latent values that make us who we are – and we were proud of them.
The thing is, if we’re really honest, something still didn’t feel quite right…
So, we couldn’t move for bunting and middle-market newspaper ‘Commemorative Souvenir Specials’, but there were still dissenting voices, who felt that this version of ‘Britishness’ didn’t somehow speak to them.
Why is this relevant to branding? Let’s look at what a great brand does. It embodies the values, contradictions, promises and essences of the organisations, products and institutions it represents. They are authentic, they’re inclusive, and they speak to ALL of their customers and audiences, inspiring trust and action.
You could argue that ‘Britain’ is the brand that we’re all most familiar with. We see the union flag in some form every day, and we have a reaction to it whenever we see it. To us, it represents a whole multitude of things.
The point is, can we honestly say that there’s been a genuine shared sense of what this is?
Whatever your political viewpoint, there’s no doubt that the nation and its people has evolved hugely in the post-war era. We’re a fundamentally different country now to where we were. Yet still we’ve been relying on the same imagery, icons and values to embody us.
There’s been a feeling among some that there’s been an imposed sense of ‘national pride’ – a sense of ‘you’re either with us or against us’, which has left many disenfranchised and not feeling like they have a stake in the nation, society and even their own communities. Witness last year’s riots, the kidnapping of national symbols by far right nationalist groups, and the continuing street tension between various groups (UAF, EDL et al) over who claims to represent the true version of Britishness.
Back to branding terms, this all adds up to a situation where Britishness had become an inauthentic brand, imposed and not shared by all. In challenging and complicated times, we look towards institutions, traditions and icons to reassure us about our place in the world and whereas many people have continued to wave the flag with gusto, to many, this vision just didn’t speak their truth.
How wonderful it was then, as flag wavers and the cynics crowded around the nation’s TV sets together, that Danny Boyle’s Olympic Opening Ceremony articulated a new vision of Britain, one that was familiar, comfortable, self-depreciating, celebratory and groundbreaking – and how even more fantastic is it to see all sections of British society get behind our athletes, of all backgrounds, races and beliefs with such genuine, authentic pride and spirit?
It seems we have stumbled upon a newly articulated vision of what Britishness is and what ‘Brand Britain’ says to the world – one we seem to all relate to.
Isn’t this what a brand is all about? A vision that all aspire and relate to, is adaptable and everyone has their own interpretation of, but is fundamentally grounded in clear values. So, what has been at the heart of this new vision? You guessed it: people.
The opening ceremony focused on the people that has made us who we are, and we have taken great pride in cheering on medalists as diverse as members of the Royal Family and Somali refugees, in the same breath.
This is what great branding and people-shaped visions is about – authenticity, aspiration and pride. Brand Britain, for all its contradictions, now embodies all of those things as a result of these past two wonderful weeks.
This is something that really chimes with the ICE way.
We’re creating brands by understanding people, their views and articulating visions with them. It’s the best way of creating authenticity and we’re bringing this to communities and organisations right across this gold medal littered land. Who knows, the true Olympic legacy might be more valuable than any of the much-trumpeted economic, or arguably even, health benefits – a new clear, authentic, congruent sense of ourselves. That’s my Olympic dream.
Ben Capper, ICE Creates Ltd (0845 5193 423 / firstname.lastname@example.org)