February 27, 2017
What does Brexit mean for ‘brand Britain’?
What does Brexit mean for ‘brand Britain’?
Our attention was caught a couple of weeks ago by a piece in Marketing Week with the headline ‘ Is ‘Britishness’ losing its global brand power?’ We’ve been blogging both here on the Stobbs Blog and on the Kluwer Trademark Blog about the impact of Brexit on brand owners, but this article set us wondering about some of the other ways in which Brexit might be affecting UK brands.

For many brands, their Britishness is part of their appeal. This often comes with associations of heritage, tradition, and a slightly old-fashioned cricket-and-cream-teas view of Britishness. And this seems to appeal not just to domestic consumers in the UK but also to consumers around the world who want to buy in to this view of a green and pleasant land.

But many commentators also say that, for them, Britishness stands for innovation, fresh new ideas, and an outward-looking, international mindset, which seems to stand in contrast to the tweed-clad image which many brands are selling.

Perhaps this dual image of ‘brand Britain’ reflects the divided nation revealed in last summer’s Brexit vote, with 52% of voters favouring a view of an independent Britain ‘taking back control’ from the EU, and 48% preferring to maintain our position as part of the wider European project. The vote revealed a Britain that is both nationalist and internationalist, divided fairly evenly between the two camps.

Paradoxically, the recipe for success often seems to lie in combining the more traditional view of Britishness with an outward-looking approach to finding new markets. As Marketing Week pointed out, Cath Kidston (with their traditional floral prints and London bus imagery) are growing particularly strongly in markets such as Japan and India.

All this leaves brand owners with some tricky decisions around whether and how to play up their Britishness. As the article points out, the image of Britishness projected internationally has often depended on the domestic political situation, with Thatcher’s Britain of the 1980s portraying itself as more socially conservative, while the Blair era’s ‘Cool Britannia’ was much more multicultural. As the UK moves towards triggering Article 50 and the discussions around how Britain leaves the EU get underway, will ‘brand Britain’ maintain its appeal to international consumers? And will British brands need to change how they present Britishness in order to keep up with changing international views on what Britain stands for?

Much of the advice to brands is to stand firm amidst the shifting political sands. Consumers value reliability and predictability during times of change, and a brand that holds its nerve and stays true to its message can offer a sense of stability to its customers. But it’s how to reconcile that advice with the changing picture of what ‘Britishness’ means that may pose a challenge to brands who want to promote their ‘made in Britain’ credentials.
Brexit /  Advertising /  Brand Extension (licensing)

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