This summer, the kaleidoscope of Britain was given a shake. In June, Dame Judi Dench welcomed the world with a £100m global campaign selling the virtues of the UK. It came hard on the heels of a royal wedding that promoted a fairytale image of the nation to a worldwide audience. With the Olympics beckoning, Britain promoted an attractive and self-confident image abroad.
That all changed on the evening of 6 August. As the riots spread across London and rippled across England, it was more than shop windows that were shattered. Britain's confidence was hit too, with the initial absence of police and politicians resulting in numerous questions and introspection. With half the Cabinet on holiday and looters acting with seeming impunity, TV cameras were transmitting scenes of rampant destruction, a far cry from the jubilant scenes of a royal carriage sailing up The Mall.
The panic spread around the world. "London's burning," concluded The Times of India. "Riots continue to rattle Britain in worst unrest in two decades," said The New York Times, while The Japan Times and China Daily opted for the headline: "City of Fire".
A spokesperson for UKinbound, the body that represents the UK's inbound tourism industry, described the scenes as "most unfortunate for the global image of the UK – and not just ahead of the Olympics but for the country's short-term and long-term inbound tourism industry".
Mark Di-Toro, the spokesman for Visit Britain, recalls: "We had just launched the You're Invited campaign to coincide with the start of Wimbledon. Part of the deal was with news websites around the world. Suddenly we had captions of You're Invited sitting alongside news footage of London on fire." The company was forced to pull its ad campaign and mobilise its emergency response group, Tier, set up in the aftermath of the 7 July bombings.
The exact fallout is still being assessed. The global research agency TNS says 26 per cent of Americans who had planned to visit the UK have scrapped their plans entirely, while an additional 14 per cent were less likely to visit than before. Four out of 10 Germans, 37 per cent of Americans and 35 per cent of the French people surveyed viewed Britain as "less appealing". In all three countries, around a third of respondents felt less confidence in London's ability to host a trouble-free Olympics.
Jim Eccleston, the travel director of TNS UK, said: "It's how the country as a whole, including the tourist boards and local businesses, respond to the crisis that will have the biggest impact on attracting people to the UK. Currently, I believe we are looking at a short-term emotional reaction to images in the media."
As Britain now dusts itself down and gets back to business, we asked some of the leading advertising agencies how to bring tourists back to Britain. Their suggestions are illustrated with a verdict from The Independent on Sunday's cultural commentator, Peter York.
London. It's anything but dull
Dave Trott, executive creative director, CST The Gate
Creativity does not grow out of comfort. It comes out of tough times and exasperation. Punk grew out of unemployment. Street art is becoming as popular as mainstream art and the appeal of Banksy is being exported around the world. Chaos and volatility may look disturbing on television, but it is also a social movement that is edgy and interesting. London needs to hold its head up high and be proud.
Peter York's verdict This is elegant and clever. A knock-off Banksy with a bunch of flowers. And the notion that London is tremendously edgy and, as fashion people say, "directional". Which would be fine if you were advertising only at daring young things, global Nathan Barley types, who know our aesthetics and worship the punk tradition. But this is intended to reassure a much larger and bigger spending group of average Joes and Joannas from Hamburg to Hong Kong, who mostly won't get it.
David Woods, creative director, surgerycreations
The quintessential British response to any crisis is a cup of tea and a debrief. And even through all the troubles, Britain has shown itself to have a strong, caring community. Our concept draws these ideas together through Britain's greatest community weapon: the old fashion cuppa.
Peter York's verdict More Blitz echoes. More warm and wonderful welcomes. More Union Jacks. More community spirit. (Do advertising creatives live in Shoreditch? Is the Pope Catholic?) All perfectly nice, but not tackling the problem or advancing an alternative distracting appeal.
Dave Dye, founding partner, DHM
I would not recommend seriously referencing the riots because I can't see it increasing visitors. It's a bit like saying: "Bikini Island. Now virtually radiation-free!" Or "Germany: the percentage of Nazis is now tiny." There are millions of great reasons out there to visit Britain, but I tend to think they would make better articles than ads.
Peter York's verdict Agreed. Previous British riots got less global coverage because they weren't all in London and didn't involve so much looting and trashing. The logic of an approach reminding people of this is pretty questionable.
Great spirit. You're invited
Stef Jones, creative partner, Big Al's Creative Emporium
We cannot ignore what happened. The world saw things as we did. They saw the negatives, so now we must imbue them with the positives. If 2,000 thugs taking to the street is a reality of Britain, so are the 20,000 people from all cultures and creeds sorting out the mess together. In a perverse way, the reaction to the trouble is a reminder of Britain's greatest strength.
Peter York's verdict This looks attractive. And welcoming. But it will play better here than anywhere else. Elsewhere it's a bit mystifying – like any "community-ish" initiative. It mustn't need explaining. People don't spend money and precious time to sample community spirit in First World countries. They want what they've heard of – locations, rituals, etc that can be ticked off in life's great checklist. And they want to see it safely.
Great Britain – where it all happens
Russel D'ambrosio, partner, Brand Britain
The strength of the campaign utilises the symbolic "GB" icon. It becomes a point of communication and a constant visual reminder of where we are talking about, but more importantly it cleverly plays a role within the advert's main text... the emotional hook. Let's remember the things that are great about us – our culture, history, natural beauty, our business acumen. These are the points we should be selling – let the riots fade into insignificance.
Peter York's verdict This seizes on the idea that – you lucky people! – you'll be extra-safe now because our rioters have all been locked up. So you can just see a tough American tourist type – a sort of latterday Dr Ruth – saying, "So... you've had thousands of dangerous young people on the loose, and you never told us."
Dreadfully sorry about all this
Jason Goodman, managing director, Albion
We wanted to maintain the archetypal tone that we're famed for. This would be a multimedia campaign utilising the social media used to incite the riots. Rioters would be made to make a public apology broadcast on YouTube while those who created this mess would be forced to get us out of it.
Peter York's verdict This is British understatement, as in "a little local difficulty". The conceit that the hoodie looters are actually the most English of people is delicious but difficult to communicate except to those who know and love us best.Reuse content