Has a saint ever been associated with so many sinners? St George would surely be cross that, these days, his name and eponymous standard frequently conjure up images of collective shame rather than national pride.
England’s flag and entire brand has been de-valued by its association with society’s more motley crews – think beer-saturated tourists, knuckle-dragging racists and, of course, football hooligans. Globally, the phrase “the English are coming” now means nothing more than stock up your bars and prepare Casualty for a busy night.
All in all, it seems like we’re living in a nation with an identity crisis ... but what can we do? How can we put the multi-talented performer that is England back on the global stage to be pelted with bouquets instead of truncheons? How can our national brand be refreshed?
These were the tricky questions that we asked three of Yorkshire’s finest design and branding agencies to answer. To make things even tougher, we only gave them a week to get the light bulbs flashing above their collective craniums. What do you think of their switched-on ideas? Will they make people see the light?
We looked at the Adline brief and wondered if we had to take this seriously. Surely the whole Cool Britannia thing was bad enough and that was six years ago?
With the best intentions, and some reservations, we had a company-wide meeting (in typical English fashion, in the pub), where we had what you might call a “heated debate”. But it worked; we agreed on something. We agreed that it was a fucking impossible brief.
Don’t get us wrong. We didn’t dismiss the whole thing out of hand. We looked at the purity of the design of the flag and wondered just what it might look like wrested from the hands of the yobs and hung proudly outside the front of a public building; a mosque, for example. We went in search of more benign symbols of Englishness. How about the English oak? It symbolises strength, courage and protection, it’s part of the make-up of the land, it’s got a presence. And what about symbols from pre-history still cut into our green and pleasant land – white horses and giants. They knew a thing or two about making an impact back then.
So where does that leave us? In a place where the problem is not the packaging, but the contents. If you don’t know who you are by now then we doubt if a design solution is going to help you find yourself. In the words of our parents: “Go and get a proper job.” You puff.
The Big Idea
We think it’s time the England flag was reclaimed. The reputation of the Cross of St George has gone from bad to worse and the ubiquitous red and white painted face is now the default version. Worse than that, the England “brand” has come to represent our very worst attributes in the eyes of our neighbours. For too long, England and the English have had negative connotations – from rampaging football hooligans to xenophobic small-minded “Little Englanders”.
Our strategy is to focus on the fabulous diversity of the English. We want to focus on the thing that truly makes England great – its people.
We are proposing a communication strategy that will fill the heart with pride and remind each of us why we have every reason to be proud of the country in which we live. It will celebrate diversity, achievement, attitude and, most of all, “Englishness”.
The strapline “Forever England” comes from the famous Rupert Brooke poem and is a proud and “un-jingoistic” take on football chants we often hear. We want the brand to be taken seriously and the execution reflects this.
We’d like to see a range of stamps celebrating the very best of English talent. Currently, no-one alive is allowed to be seen on a stamp (except the Queen). We think this should be changed in these exceptional circumstances. The stamps would be a powerful way of getting the message across to the populace. Imagine getting a letter from your bank manager with Quentin Crisp on the stamp!
We would also propose this outdoor campaign gets seen in the places you don’t expect – at football and rugby internationals, for instance. If we are to reclaim the flag for the masses, we will need to go out and get the message seen and challenge the true notion of “Englishness”. We would use adshels and 48 sheets.
We would take affiliate marketing to the next level by approaching a big bank (English if possible) to run a series of credit cards allowing customers to pick their favourite English character. Ken Dodd on your credit card, anyone?
The Designers Republic
Brief: Re-brand England.
Solution: England doesn’t need a rebrand – it needs a brand reposition.
The existing brand (the St George’s Cross – if it matters) has greater unrealised potential through it’s residual value, extending through history, culture, people, national and international identity, than any new, market-driven identity could hope to achieve. The English brand is internationally known. It has foundation at a time of uncertainty.
True, the English brand has been tarnished by negative aspects of society. Also true – the English have allowed this to happen. False – the answer is to change our national identity.
Why? Because the same people will usurp any English identity for their mistaken expressions of national pride and nationalism. The English Disease will not be cured by avoiding the symptoms.
The answer is to reclaim what belongs to all English people. The answer is to re-contextualise the brand to represent inclusion not exclusion, a brand that celebrates every aspect of modern multicultural England. The goalposts need to be moved psycho-culturally through cohesive public campaigns employing the existing brand as signifier.
Three Lions campaign to promote ENGLAND UNITED.
First Lion: All sports teams representing England adopt the English flag as their official kit. Football, rugby union, athletics, and so on all wear all white with the red cross of St George across the front and back of their shirts: reclaims the flag/brand from the minority and gives it to the majority, forcing negative elements to find alternative iconography. Creates foundation to exploit brand to English national benefit internationally (as per stars and stripes).
Second Lion: Initiate re-vamped successful 60s–70s “I’m Backing Britain”/”Made in Britain” self-promotional campaign both nationally and internationally. Identify key positive-brand-message products made in England and utilise to reinforce non-confrontational pride, faith and confidence in English culture.
Supply free/subsidised “England United” stickers/posters/ flags/badges/merchandising to create a buzz bigger and better than the euphoria of Britpop. Pop-culturally, being English is cool internationally ... encourage peer group leaders and taste-makers to extend this “cool” to England itself through fashion, art, pop-specific culture using history of past innovation as a foundation.
Third Lion: Not what does the St George Cross represent BUT instead what it could represent. Internationally, a red cross represents healing – healing cultural divide and creating unity. A cross represents plus – plus means positivity. Encourage discussion and debate through the media about the positive aspects of England/English culture/the English brand. A cross represents plus – plus means “and”. “And” represents inclusive positive culture, a celebration of the defining differences our history has bequeathed our culture.
Fish ’n’ chips + chicken tikka masala = England, etc.
A cohesive billboard/press/populist promotional campaign at points of entry/exit to the country (airports/ports etc), on the street, on the TV, and so on, both entertains, informs and reaffirms the new English brand identity without recourse to change for the sake of change, or change as an easy answer.
Ask not what the English brand can do for you but what you can do for the English brand ...