Advertising Brand

Why old brand beacons will fuel post-Brexit Britain

By Andrew Eborn and Richard J. Hillgrove VI | Columnists

March 15, 2017 | 6 min read

Theresa May is preparing to press Go! on Article 50. Pro or anti, there’s one thing for sure - Brexiting will peel away the layers of the Brand Britain onion and reveal the naked core.


All the diversity and kaleidoscope of colours seen in Danny Boyle’s 2012 Olympic opening ceremony risk being drained away. Without its European neighbours, Britain needs to pull out all the stops to market itself and its wares to the world.

Statistics show that a mere eight percent of Britain’s 5.4 million SMEs are currently exporting to the EU. Sheer survival will see marketers falling back on the past, the historic residue of a pre-ordained brand identity.

We saw them all in 2012’s history mash-up. Cue the Union Flag, royal family, bowlers and brollies. Let’s not forget Bond, James Bond. We’ll take the lot, shaken and stirred.

Look at the statistics. Without a billboard campaign, TV advertising or an SEO campaign, the 2011 wedding of Prince William and Kate Middleton was watched by an estimated 2 billion people in 180 countries worldwide.

In the USA, an average of 23 million Americans watched, with a peak of 60 million tuning in at some point, eclipsing the estimated 17 million for Prince Charles and Lady Diana Spencer’s wedding in 1981.

72 million live streams for Wills and Kate secured them a place in the 2012 Guinness World Book of Records for the ‘most live streams for a single event’. The young royals beat the previous record holder - the 2009 Michael Jackson memorial service - hands down.

Far from showing laziness and lack of imagination, marketers relying on the tried and tested are displaying wise pragmatism.

Post-Brexit Britain must turn up the volume on its brand, that’s clear. What’s also clear is that as we operate in this zenith of media proliferation, no new brand mark stands a chance of cutting through the noise without relying on pre-embedded historic reference points.

This reality is reflected in the film industry with its remakes, franchises and comic book recreations. Superman. Batman. Superman Vs. Batman.

DC Extended Universe is an American media franchise that centres on a series of superhero films based on characters originally found in DC Comics and a shared universe where plot elements, characters and settings cross over.

Three films have been distributed since the franchise launched in 2011 grossing more than US$2.3 billion globally. Ten more are said to be in production.

Suicide Squad, released in 2016, is based on the DC Comics anti-hero team of the same name. It brings together superstar Will Smith with heartthrob Jared Leto as the Joker and former Neighbours star Margot Robbie as Harley Quinn. (See what they did there?) Even fashion model Cara Delevingne pops up as the Enchantress.

And so it goes in this something-for-everyone cocktail of action, attraction and protraction.

It is so much easier to sell to film financiers where projects are already assured of success and guaranteed a profit, familiarity breeding comfort rather than contempt.

We see a lot of brands being gutted and sold for a song, but they still have a sleeping residue that lies dormant, always waiting to be awoken.

When we were representing the family restaurant brand, Little Chef, just after it had fallen into administration, the first thing we noticed was that it was about to celebrate its 50th anniversary.

The administrators hadn’t recognised the equity locked in the brand. Like putting a flame to a kerosene doused mattress, we immediately triggered a phenomenal public outcry. The people spoke, because despite the boarded-up windows, fond memories were lying dormant just waiting to be revived – like the brand itself.

So watch out for a Best of British revival as marketers find themselves slavishly relying on the old school to ensure Brexited Britain has a loud share of the world media voice.

Of course, we’ll see the stereotypes twisted and tweaked to dust them down and give them a new hook, but inevitably the base to any marketing efforts will be the residual qualities in good old Brand Britain. The bulldog will get a new coat but it’s still the same breed.

Nostalgia ain't what it used to be.

Snapping at Brexit’s heels, of course, is Indyref 2 as Scotland’s First Minister Nicola Sturgeon piles the pressure on for a new referendum.

Expect some serious debate fuelled by the tartan cringe factor as Scotland asserts its independent spirit and marketers weigh up turning tail on tartan and all it stands for in favour of Brand Braveheart or more modern reflections of Scottish style and substance.

They won’t be able to ditch tartan completely. It’s been one of the defining images of Scotland for 200 years thanks to Sir Walter Scott whose pageant for King George IV - the first ‘English’ king to visit Scotland - elevated the tartan kilt to part of the country’s national identity.

Subsequent monarchs have kept alive Scott’s romantic Waverley novels image of Scotch mists, whisky and tartan, but while all these things exist, the newly self-assured Scotland will be looking for more appropriate brand beacons.

The hunt is on. Marketers will just have to bite the bullet and make sure they don't shoot the goose that lays the golden egg.

Bang On to Andrew and Richard on Twitter and email: @andreweborn @OctopusTV @6Hillgrove

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