Leading Article: Flying the flag is no longer enough today

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The Independent Culture
IT WAS not long ago that we were being told we had to rebrand Britain in order to keep up with youthful perceptions in a globalised world; in particular, the Union Jack itself needed redesigning as its associations were more suited to the colonial era. British Airways responded to the new thinking with its much-derided "world images" for its airplane tailfins. We must confess to having had rather a liking for this "art graffiti", as one critic called it, but it appears that BA's customers didn't share our approval; they wanted the comforting Union Jack back.

And BA is not the only one to see merit in the old flag. Virgin Airlines announced yesterday that it, too, is to fly the flag, with eight-foot Union Jacks on each wingtip and a "flying lady" beneath the cockpit sporting two more. These patriotic developments in the world of marketing were contradicted by one item of business news also announced yesterday. The country's leading steel manufacturer is to buy a smaller Dutch company and is to change its name from the familiar British Steel to BSKH, making it sound like an advertising agency or a bank. It thus joins all those other "British" companies (including BT, BP, BOC, BL, BAA, BBC, BAe and, of course, BA itself) that have initialised their identifying country name out of existence.

So are our airborne entrepreneurs riding a new wave of patriotism? We suspect not. Yes, in an age of increasing globalisation, companies need a distinctive brand. But it is no longer just enough to wave our national flag, hoping to conjure up glowing neo-imperial images. What is needed by all these firms is for their activities to radiate a new image of a modern, entrepreneurial, inclusive nation. Only then will we avoid being left in the slipstream of history. And, until then, flag-waving should be left to football matches, the proms and royal weddings.