You can be proud of your country. That’s fine. Blitz spirit, stiff upper lip. Sure. But if that’s all you’ve got, you’re in a bit of a pickle.
This may have happened to Tesco. Last year, the retail giant announced ten discount chain stores named after its founder, Jack Cohen.
Jack’s was set up to pry wandering Tesco customers from Lidl and Aldi’s sleek, Germanic biceps. Despite its cut-throat prices not always matching the Teutonic twins’ - for example, your patriotic pork sausages were considerably pricier at Jack’s on launch day - Tesco’s chest swelled with pride. It cast Jack’s as the true British choice, leading with the line: ‘8 out of 10 products are grown, reared or made in Britain.’
Now, however, the Rawtenstall branch of Jack’s is closing.
It was previously a Tesco. It’s going to be turned back into a Tesco.
This British thing is a bit of a problem, isn’t it?
Tesco set up shop and expected consumers to come flocking. Because they’re Tesco, and they’re British.
That said, Aldi and Lidl have invested millions building their respective brand voices and market share. They’re top of the list when you think of a quality budget, and a lot of their stuff’s British to boot - 100% of Aldi’s fresh meat and poultry is from Britain.
Aldi didn’t hinge the majority of their brand identity on that. Sure, it plays into certain campaigns, and it does help.
But simply being British isn’t really a USP, is it? There have been several complaints about Jack’s’ overall customer experience. On the visual front, the design seems a bit incomplete. If it’s just the price that’s the differentiator, it’s not going to stop unfaithful Tesco shoppers liaising with Lidl and Aldi. I’m not calling Jack’s an abject failure - the store is reverting to Tesco to sate customer demand, so make of that what you will - but this is bigger than that.
I’m sick of hearing about it, looking at it, saying it, but whatever: Brexit.
Brexit Brexit Brexit. Big fat Brexit. Like the Carry On series it keeps coming back, and you can’t seem to look away no matter how bad it gets.
It’s happening on 31 October. Apparently.
And no matter which side of the fence you sit, you can’t deny the view of Britons has been skewed across the continent. The UK doesn’t seem to be overly swayed by the ‘We’re British, didn’t you know?’ angle, so why would anyone else?
HP Sauce is made in the Netherlands. Rolls Royce is owned by BMW. Harrods belongs to the State of Qatar. All quintessentially British stuff that transcends its Britishness through sheer quality.
After Brexit, will brands be so bold as to wear their Union Jacks on their sleeves? Will campaigns double down on Mr. Beanisms, or will those traits be stripped out? How will new brands launch and compete in a post-Brexit market?
Naturally, like everything else from the past three years or so, that’s all up to speculation right now.
But surely, even if Jack’s isn’t a wake-up call, it could at least be a whimpering dog or rustling tree in the night. If the UK’s given a slapped bottom for Brexit and we have to graft our way through it all, Britishness isn’t enough. Not at all.
If this can teach us anything, aside from the fact that pretty much everyone shops at Aldi and Lidl - one in every seven Great British Grocery Pounds are spent here - it’s that you won’t succeed by copying your competitors, whether you slap a Union Jack on it or not. Any new name should be propping itself up with its own strengths - Tesco actually did this really well with its Food Love Stories drive a while back, focusing on real people. British, yeah. But not in your face. Authentic.
British spirit is fine. Not just fine. Good. Plenty of great brands use it. Yorkshire Tea literally had Sean Bean yell ‘Do it for Yorkshire’ in a recent ad. Granted, he didn’t die or call anyone a bastard, but I’ll let that slide.
Should we bin Brand Britain?
But we definitely shouldn’t bank on it.
George Roberts is client service director at Five by Five