A summer of patriotic events has seen consumers and brands alike reaching for the Union Flag, but are those brands flying the flag high on their mast seen by consumers to be embracing patriotism or turning a quick trick for seasonal gain? It is a common approach for brands to align themselves with seasonal events but recent months have seen so many brands launch ‘British’ marketing campaigns that consumers are left drowning in a cynical sea of red, white and blue.
Carling confidently use the strapline ‘Brilliantly British and Brilliantly Refreshingly’ despite the fact that the company was established in Canada in the early 19th Century and is still US/Canadian owned today.
According to a recent survey carried out by Coley Porter Bell “the British are being very British in their attitude to Britishness”. CEO Vicky Bullen explains: “They are happy for brands to be patriotic, but they want brands to act with dignity and restraint when it comes to using the flag and other icons of Britishness. Fewer than one in five respondents felt that overt patriotism is acceptable.”
“Consumers are also able to detect ‘flag wash’ very easily. Companies that simply use the flag or British imagery without accompanying action or provenance will soon be spotted as imposters. The warning to brands is that jumping on the band wagon can become annoying and over time counter productive.”
For the third year running a Schweppes/Diageo partnership promotes the brands’ British heritage and the drinking of Schweppes products with lashings and lashings of Pimm’s and Gordon’s Gin. It’s not like we need encouraging, but a £3.5m campaign certainly helps.
Virgin Media have gone one step further and introduced the Union Flag to their logo last year. Jeff Dodds, executive director of brand and marketing at Virgin Media, says that there are some brands – like Virgin – that have the “right” to tap into ‘brand Britain’ and others that don’t.
Dodds says that “If you want to unlock the Britishness of a brand, you have to be a truly British brand – we have that Britishness to unlock through being a British company, led by Richard Branson, and our sponsorship of Britain’s Got Talent. That allows us to change our logo in that way but other brands perhaps don’t have a right to do in the same way, and might be treated cynically.”
And if Virgin Media’s brand value is anything to go by then it seems Mr Dodds made the right move. Coinciding with the introduction of a Union Flag to its logo, brand value has gone up by 64% according to Brand Finance’s list of the most valuable brands of British origin.
Brands can perhaps be forgiven for jumping on the Brand Britain bandwagon for a few months but when the stands are empty, the bunting is soggy and the summer of sport is over, our thoughts will turn to new things (mainly buying a coat) and the Union Flag takes on new meaning again.