Let’s start with a couple of caveats. Firstly, I’m a resolute optimist – something I share in common with many adfolk. Advertising is not a great career choice for pessimists. Hope is more of a till ringer than gloom.
Secondly, I’m proud to be British. Not in the jingoistic sense of the word, but in the sense of Britishness defined by the DfE’s five core values; democracy, rule of law, individual liberty, mutual respect and tolerance.
So as a proud, optimistic (remain voting) Brit, my answer to the question of how Brand Britain should face the future is somewhat predictable. The UK can look forward with tremendous confidence.
Confidence, however, is not something we excel at. The British are better at self-deprecation (and losing at penalties). We don’t like talking things up. In fact, we tend to have a considerably lower opinion of ourselves than our non-British counterparts.
For instance, in my research for this article, I was surprised to learn that, in a MORI survey of twenty thousand G20 nationals, the UK was rated first as the most attractive country in the group, with a net positive rating of 63 per cent (with Canada at 62 per cent and Italy at 61 per cent).
As a sceptical Brit, I immediately assumed this must be an old survey, but it was released in June 2020 so it isn’t that dated. I also wondered whether the score was inflated by an older demographic’s nostalgic view. However, it turned out that the survey was conducted exclusively amongst 18-34-year-olds, Brand Britain’s future customer base.
Despite our natural reservations, then, Britain is held in surprisingly high regard around the world and, if the brand was my Client, these are the three pieces of advice I’d give it.
Number one, have Confidence; believe in yourself. This may sound like self-help claptrap, but Brand Britain needs to give it some.
Not that long ago (in the 90s), we were riding high; Cool Britannia, BritPop and Young British Artists were taking the world by storm. We can again. As a historical footnote, this cultural moment coincided with another major European exit, namely our expulsion from the ERM.
This apparent setback marked a resurgence of British commercial creativity, as manifested in the launch of Orange, First Direct, Dyson, easyJet and Pret a Manger. The 20s could roar even louder than the 90s for Brand Britain.
Number two, our Creativity; let’s celebrate and export it. We are an exceptionally inventive and creative culture in many different fields from music, architecture and design to finance, art, literature, engineering and biotech.
We have universally admired centres of intellectual and creative excellence from the BBC, to four of the world’s top ten universities, to our amazing art and drama schools, theatres, music venues and museums. We are a thought leader creatively. Let’s use our innate imagination to the full.
Number three, our Cosmopolitanism; let’s reach out rather than turn in. As with all polarising issues, Brexit stirred some very negative feelings. The fortress Britain mentality of hardline Brexiteers coincided with a rise in racist and xenophobic attitudes. These will be a disaster for Brand Britain.
Our 21st century reputation will be built on the hard-won values of tolerance and mutual respect. These are precious yet fragile attributes which need protecting and nurturing. We are an inherently diverse culture, a melting pot of talents, faiths, ethnicities and cultures.
In a world that increasingly values co-creation and collaboration, we have a natural head start as a hot-house for shared, diverse and eclectic influences. We must harness these as our most precious resource.
The 21st century will be the first fully post-industrial era. We are seeing a shift from hardware to software, from goods and things to ideas and experiences. This meta-trend plays to our national strengths. We have always been a culture of remarkable ingenuity and inventiveness. These are the raw materials of the new knowledge economy, and we are rich in them.
The three ‘C’s’ are our key to exploiting them. We need to nurture and protect the open-source nature of our Cosmopolitanism. This will underpin our world leading Creativity which, in turn, will inspire a new sense of Confidence in what we have to offer. Taken together, these form the basis for a resurgent Brand Britain, capable of playing a formidable role in the new Age of Ideas.