Frozen out of `cool' Britain

As the country takes on a new, positive image, companies must learn how to reap the benefits. Hugh Aldersey-Williams reports

REPORTS that British Airways is to backtrack on its multi-cultural new corporate identity - hotly denied both by the company and its design consultancy - nevertheless plant the suspicion that the company may not be completely at home with its radical new image.

Ironically, the cause of the difficulty may be BA's policy of continuously researching perceptions of the company. Hardly surprisingly, consumers seeing the diversity of new plane tail designs no longer regard BA as the mighty, unified company it seemed under its old livery. A mid-air U-turn is out of the question, but some minor course corrections may be necessary to make sure that the competitive advantage of a sense of scale is not entirely lost.

Whatever the background, the fact is that the pounds 60m identity continues to be debated a year after its unveiling, long after press interest in new logos and liveries normally subsides. One factor fuelling debate is that the identity serves as an ambassador for Britain's image abroad. As such, it is perhaps the most organised visual expression of Cool Britannia, a position that BA's chief executive, Bob Ayling, has endorsed by his participation in recent discussions on national "rebranding".

The controversy that continues to surround the BA identity raises the question for companies of what is in it for them from the rebranding of Britain. The Design Council's Creative Britain report, published in the spring, all but omits companies from its catalogue of ways of "promoting Britain's creative strengths".

The recent showcase, Powerhouse UK, was notable for individual products and individual designers, but again not for corporate names. It seems companies just are not cool. A few corporate representatives who appear among the gallery of creative types photographed for the cover of Creative Britain could see no further than their own noses: BA's man held up that livery. Individual designers mostly showed more imagination and less dull self-interest.

How can companies catch the wave? Dragon International, the corporate reputation consultancy, expected to be in a position to advise companies simply to ignore the phenomenon when in April it undertook research into what rebranding Britain meant to consumers. "Companies want to work out how to stay relevant. Our advice was to be: `Don't jump on the bandwagon,'" says Dragon director Dorothy MacKenzie. "We expected an incoherent response from consumers. But we were surprised at what we found."

What Dragon found was that the idea of a rebranded Britain gave people a powerful new tool with which to categorise familiar companies.

Far from meaning different things to different people, whether a company was part of a "New Britain" or not was something that emerged with remarkable consistency.

Consumers were asked to rank a list of retailers and a list of other companies. Tesco, Carphone Warehouse, Coffee Republic, Pret a Manger and the Body Shop were "definitely New Britain" retailers. Debenhams scored badly and Bhs worse. Among other companies, services did best: Virgin, First Direct and Orange scored highest, with BA, BT and the BBC following in the second-placed group.

The results will delight some companies and dismay others. Some brands are getting over a cool message without even realising it, or for no obvious reason. Cadbury's, for example, was thought "quite New Britain" along with BA. For manufacturers, unfairly, to appear cool is seemingly an impossibility. Hoover and Rover scored very low. Dyson Appliances, the bagless vacuum cleaner maker, was the only manufacturing company among those listed that consumers thought "definitely New Britain".

Can these findings be used predictively rather than merely as a discriminator between known quantities? Should companies attempt to move themselves up the "New Britain" scale?

Not if it is simply a cynical calculation, warns Ms MacKenzie. The real challenge for companies is to incorporate the new national mood in their behaviour toward customers.

"After years of sitting in research groups with people being negative, it was a surprise to find people saying: `I like living in Britain.' It was a pervasive feeling. Now, can you encourage that general feeling of positiveness at the corporate level, the idea that you can be like that in the company too?"

Ordering staff to feel positive, of course, is doomed to failure. But companies can begin to increase their potential "cool" rating in a number of ways. Honesty and openness are respected, even if it means owning up to some failings. Above all, marketing people need to absorb influences from the broader culture, rather than just picking up the stylistic tics of the latest Hollywood blockbuster for their next promotion. Corporate marketing directors and design managers may not be that cool on a scale that has Jarvis Cocker and Damien Hirst at the top end. But it is surely part of their role to apprise their leaders of the broad cultural trend - after all, nobody else is going to do it.

News
Alan Bennett criticised the lack of fairness in British society encapsulated by the private school system
peopleBut he does like Stewart Lee
Arts and Entertainment
Sheridan Smith as Cilla Black and Ed Stoppard as her manager Brian Epstein
tvCilla Episode 2 review: Grit under the glamour in part two of biopic series starring Sheridan Smith
Sport
David Moyes and Louis van Gaal
football
News
i100
PROMOTED VIDEO
Life and Style
Vote with your wallet: the app can help shoppers feel more informed about items on sale
lifeNew app reveals political leanings of food companies
News
Former Governor of Alaska Sarah Palin, left, with her daughter, Bristol
newsShe's 'proud' of eldest daughter, who 'punched host in the face'
Life and Style
The Google Doodle celebrating the start of the first day of autumn, 2014.
tech
Sport
New Zealand fly-half Aaron Cruden pictured in The Zookeeper's Son on a late-night drinking session
rugby
Arts and Entertainment
Salmond told a Scottish television chat show in 2001that he would also sit in front of a mirror and say things like,
tvCelebrity Trekkies from Alex Salmond to Barack Obama
Life and Style
Carol O'Brien, whose son Rob suffered many years of depression
healthOne mother's story of how London charity Maytree helped her son with his depression
News
ebooksAn unforgettable anthology of contemporary reportage
Arts and Entertainment
The cover of Dark Side of the Moon
musicCan 'The Endless River' carry on the tradition? See for yourself
Life and Style
food + drink
News
Rob Merrick's Lobby Journalists were playing Ed Balls' Labour Party MPs. The match is an annual event which takes place ahead of the opening of the party conference
newsRob Merrick insistes 'Ed will be hurting much more than me'
News
A cabin crew member photographed the devastation after one flight
news
Voices
A new app has been launched that enables people to have a cuddle from a stranger
voicesMaybe the new app will make it more normal to reach out to strangers
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs Money & Business

Trainee / Experienced Recruitment Consultants

£20000 - £25000 per annum + OTE £40,000: SThree: SThree are a global FTSE 250 ...

Trainee Recruitment Consultant - Soho

£20000 - £25000 per annum + OTE £40000: SThree: As a Recruitment Consultant, y...

Trainee Recruitment Consultants - Banking & Finance

£20000 - £25000 per annum + OTE £40,000: SThree: SThree Group have been well e...

Quantitative Risk Manager

Up to £80000: Saxton Leigh: My client, a large commodities broker, is looking ...

Day In a Page

Secret politics of the weekly shop

The politics of the weekly shop

New app reveals political leanings of food companies
Beam me up, Scottie!

Beam me up, Scottie!

Celebrity Trekkies from Alex Salmond to Barack Obama
Beware Wet Paint: The ICA's latest ambitious exhibition

Beware Wet Paint

The ICA's latest ambitious exhibition
Pink Floyd have produced some of rock's greatest ever album covers

Pink Floyd have produced some of rock's greatest ever album covers

Can 'The Endless River' carry on the tradition?
Sanctuary for the suicidal

Sanctuary for the suicidal

One mother's story of how London charity Maytree helped her son with his depression
A roller-coaster tale from the 'voice of a generation'

Not That Kind of Girl:

A roller-coaster tale from 'voice of a generation' Lena Dunham
London is not bedlam or a cradle of vice. In fact it, as much as anywhere, deserves independence

London is not bedlam or a cradle of vice

In fact it, as much as anywhere, deserves independence
Vivienne Westwood 'didn’t want' relationship with Malcolm McLaren

Vivienne Westwood 'didn’t want' relationship with McLaren

Designer 'felt pressured' into going out with Sex Pistols manager
Jourdan Dunn: Model mother

Model mother

Jordan Dunn became one of the best-paid models in the world
Apple still coolest brand – despite U2 PR disaster

Apple still the coolest brand

Despite PR disaster of free U2 album
Scottish referendum: The Yes vote was the love that dared speak its name, but it was not to be

Despite the result, this is the end of the status quo

Boyd Tonkin on the fall-out from the Scottish referendum
Manolo Blahnik: The high priest of heels talks flats, Englishness, and why he loves Mary Beard

Manolo Blahnik: Flats, Englishness, and Mary Beard

The shoe designer who has been dubbed 'the patron saint of the stiletto'
The Beatles biographer reveals exclusive original manuscripts of some of the best pop songs ever written

Scrambled eggs and LSD

Behind The Beatles' lyrics - thanks to Hunter Davis's original manuscript copies
'Normcore' fashion: Blending in is the new standing out in latest catwalk non-trend

'Normcore': Blending in is the new standing out

Just when fashion was in grave danger of running out of trends, it only went and invented the non-trend. Rebecca Gonsalves investigates
Dance’s new leading ladies fight back: How female vocalists are now writing their own hits

New leading ladies of dance fight back

How female vocalists are now writing their own hits