Blair is good news for cool Britannia

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The Independent Online
New Labour has transformed the image of Britain abroad, according to research by the party's advertising agency. Louise Jury examines evidence suggesting foreigners really do believe that new Britain is vibrant, creative and cool.

Research by the advertising agency BMP DDB shows the Blairite move to modernise Britain is being recognised across the world. Using its network of international offices to canvass opinion, the agency found a snapshot group of foreigners and ex-patriates believe Britain is changing for the better.

Britons are, they think, more capable, competitive and creative. Some respondents even consider Britons witty.

Theatre, drama, literature, music and advertising are all areas in which Britain is increasingly seen as successful, with names such as the fashion designer Vivienne Westwood and the actor Ewan Macgregor, star of the film Trainspotting, being recognised the world over.

And, although the nation is still regarded as cold and proud, the emotional reaction to the death of the Princess of Wales is considered clear evidence that traditional British hauteur is slowly thawing.

BMP DDB is headed by Chris Powell, whose brother, Jonathan, is Tony Blair's chief of staff. The questionnaire, a follow-up to a similar one three years ago, was answered by around 250 personnel in the agency's offices in Europe, America, Asia and the Antipodes. A company spokesman said they felt the sample did not invalidate the reactions: "These people are supposed to be in touch with their markets and have a good feel for the local mood and attitudes."

If advertising folk are in any way representative, the Prime Minister should be delighted. A substantial number felt he had already "achieved great things" with even greater support among foreigners living in Britain. A minority said Labour's victory had made them less positive about Britain.

But Mr Powell warns that not all the results are positive. Britons are regarded as less sophisticated than before and poor producers of consumer electronics, computers and domestic appliances.

Mr Powell, whose agency's work includes the Rowan Atkinson Barclaycard ads and Gary Lineker selling Walker's crisps, said the poor image associated with British manufacturing had serious implications for selling abroad. "Perhaps we should consider putting some of the best of British products in the Millennium Dome so that people can see them," he said.

Yet the problem is even bigger among Britons, who have less confidence in British products than foreign nationals. From film-making to air travel and financial services, Britons see British products and services as poorer values than foreigners do.

"Until Britons believe in themselves more, it will be difficult to convince others of our national strengths in commercial activity," Mr Powell said.

A spokeswoman for the British Tourist Authority said they were delighted that the rest of the world appeared to know about new Britain as much as the traditional image of country houses and pageantry. "We have put a lot of effort into promoting the image of cool Britannia and it has been very successful," she said.