Made in Britain: What does 'Britishness' mean to the 2012 consumer?

Trends specialist the Future Foundation ponders the concept of Britishness in this most British of years.

2012 is Britain’s “Biggest Ever Year”, according to Coca Cola. Certainly it is a busy year, filled as it is with a vast array of special and unusual events. The Queen’s Diamond Jubilee is the jewel in the crown of a year that also embraces the London Olympics, the Paralympics, the 2012 Cultural Olympiad, the digital switchover, and of course old favourites like Wimbledon, the Notting Hill Carnival and a summer jam-packed with festivals.This is the year in which we are all meant to celebrate Britain. And there are specific social expectations inhabiting the year too: we are all meant to start taking more exercise as our personal Olympic legacy, to stop drinking so much, to buy more British, to live more greenly.There is also a wider context to consider, that of Britain’s place within a Europe in crisis and a world in recession. Our economy remains vulnerable, our citizens only modestly optimistic. So now that the eyes of the world are upon us, where does this leave ‘Made in Britain’? What does being British mean to the 2012 consumer?For the greater goodTurning to our proprietary nVision research, it becomes clear that there is a British vibe of sorts – but this is a vibe that has at its centre a sense of duty rather than a pulse of national pride. The question “What does ‘Made in Britain’ mean to you?” prompts nearly half of consumers (45 per cent) to think “it’s something I should choose for the good of the economy”. It makes 50 per cent of the over-65s more likely to buy British products – but less than 20 per cent of under-24s. Nor is ‘Made in Britain’ strongly associated with quality or value for most, with just 15 per cent and 10 per cent respectively agreeing. Within our research, there is also an echo of the shifting character of the United Kingdom – while 35 per cent of those from London and the East Midlands and 39 per cent of Northerners agree that ‘Made in Britain’ makes them proud, the sentiment is only echoed among 17 per cent of Scots. And this is the year in which we have accelerated towards a referendum on Scottish independence. One has to wonder for how long Made in Britain can persist as a universal cultural value for domestic consumers. The friction - creative or destructive, depending on your point of view - between politics and markets is here for us all to see.Local PreferenceLocal Preference is driven, at a broad level, by a number of factors, including mistrust in corporate practices, negative perceptions surrounding the impact of urbanisation and globalisation on regional or national community, and by nostalgia for British high streets full of independently owned retailers. At a more granular level, all that is local is also so often imbued with positive associations - authenticity, quality, eco-friendliness, freshness, community-sensitivity - which continue consistently to drive consumers’ interest and support in those products, retailers and brands marketed using local credentials. And the appetite for local remains largely upbeat in 2012 - nVision research reveals that more than half of consumers (57 per cent) say they are keener than in the past to buy locally produced food; while 70 per cent believe that large retailers should be forced to sell products that support local providers; 77 per cent say they are concerned about the decline of local communities; and 35 per cent claim to be taking more holidays in the UK nowadays.Local Preference is a trend that has been energised and throws down real opportunities for those brands who can exploit a British heritage. So far, so obvious. But are we creating a new stock of nostalgia goods, a genuine long-term revival in national pride? Perhaps not.Magic NostalgicThe Future Foundation trend Magic Nostalgic, which sees a strong-held belief among British consumers that the past was somehow a more secure, a happier and a better place than today, has been boosted in recent months. Looking to nVision research, we see that among those aged 28-40, about 70 per cent express enthusiasm for brands from their past making a “comeback” – and further 15 per cent say that they love this phenomenon. Similarly, heritage is revealed to be important, with nearly half (48 per cent) agreeing that when they shop for food, they are attracted to brands that have been around for years. Many brands have seized this unique opportunity to make the most of their cultural heritage in the Jubilee year. Schweppes, for example, has unveiled an ad campaign designed to highlight its British roots, while Carling lauds its 100 per cent British barley. Heinz, Mr. Kipling and McVitie’s have all launched limited edition Jubilee/British products and packaging, as has Marmite with its patriotic Ma’amite, complete with Union Jack packaging. At the luxury end of the scale, Bentley has launched a tailored edition of its Mulsanne luxury sedan to mark the Jubilee, with only 60 available, one to mark each year of the Queen’s reign.So while it is certainly true that 2012 has brought a special focus to Britain, there are several watchouts for brands. Connections with Brand Britain do not run all that deep and are strongest among older generations. The troubled economy also means consumer confidence is low. This both increases the intensity of “the Myth of Decline” when we believe that things were better in the past and also our sense of national duty - that we should support our economy through hard times. But with pressures on disposable incomes increasing and price sensitivity high will personal needs such as sticking to a budget come before those of the wider “good”? Often yes. Whether the strength of Brand Britain and thus its value to marketers to their own brands is fortified beyond the immediate will largely depend on the success and outcome of the special events we have mentioned. What if it rains all Jubilee Weekend? Or if the sun shines? Two very different stories. If British athletes win many medals at the Olympics, public perception about its value will surely differ if they do not... And looking further forward, longer term gains from harnessing all associations British cannot be guaranteed. Even if Britain is revitalised by the events of 2012, we wonder whether consumers will still feel positive towards “Britain” in 2013 - when real incomes may still be hampered by inflation and confidence by low GDP growth.The Future Foundation is a consumer insight and trends think-tank. For more information, visit www.futurefoundation.net or contact Karen Canty karenc@futurefoundation.net.

Get The Drum Newsletter

Build your marketing knowledge by choosing from daily news bulletins or a weekly special.