Cast your mind back to 2007. At the time I was working with the Department of Culture, Media and Sport. As well as working on Labour Government campaigns to promote free swimming and encourage children and young people to do more sport, Gordon Brown also wanted to tackle the tricky question of “Britishness”.
The policy was widely mocked as a waste of time as well as being impossible. If only he’d asked Danny Boyle to help! The Times mounted a campaign to come up with a British motto which led to suggestions such as “Dipso, Fatso, Asbo and Tesco’. Other observers stated that the popular era of “Cool Britannia” defined by 90s Brit Pop was in fact dead. The time for nostalgia was not then.
Fast-forward, because the time for it is in fact now Great Britain. Not that you could have missed it. The Jubilee and the Olympics have encouraged us all to reconsider and embrace our sense of Britishness. I’m not usually particularly patriotic, but even I felt compelled to wrap myself in a union jack at the Olympic Park. Not to mention dropping the flag I was waving in excitement on the heads of spectators below in the aquatics centre.
An Observer poll reports that since the Games, 82% of us feel proud to be British, whilst 70% agree the mood of the nation has been lifted, and 78% think the Olympics will have a positive effect on the way we’re perceived abroad. Well, hello, here’s a brand opportunity if ever I saw one. And the evidence is there, quick and fast.
As the autumn political conference season approaches both parties will seek to take advantage of patriotism and claim their part in our Olympic success. The sentimental response to the role of the NHS in the opening ceremony demonstrates social democratic sensibilities, and Labour have already signalled their intent to ‘rebuild Britain’ through responsible capitalism and an agenda of nation-building. There has even been talk of how those three cyan letters – NHS – can have value by selling the cherished public sector brand across the world.
I have recently heard charities question the value of Britishness, especially in an era of increasing devolution. But I would argue it’s a force to be reckoned with. A public poll conducted by one client this year revealed that 70% would prefer to support work locally and nationally compared to 11% internationally. There is a good reason why so many charity brands are changing their name to have ‘UK’ in them.
The 2012 Superbrands list also provides undeniable evidence of the value of Britishness to brands. Nearly half of the top 20 Consumer Superbrands hail from Blighty. Meanwhile, 11 of the top 20 Business Superbrands are British business heroes. Where would we be without the BBC, M&S or John Lewis (also known as ‘the mother ship’ in our household)? Other more surprising entries in the consumer brand list include Wedgewood and Royal Albert Hall. Flying the Union Jack in the business category are Rolls-Royce, GlaxoSmithKline, British Airways and competitor Virgin Atlantic. Somewhat disappointingly no charities ever seem to make these lists, but that’s a blog for another day.
And so my friends, if you are a British brand the time to be proud and cash in is now. Rule Britannia!
Dan is The Good Agency's Head of Brand – and an expert on brand identities for third-sector organisations.