Inside Story: A Brand New Europe
The commercial confidence of Europe's leading countries has been boosted by an emergence, and in some case re-emergence, of classic brands. Paul Bainsfair, President of TBWA Europe, highlights the companies who are setting new standards.
Monday 18 April 2005
IRELAND: FROM FUN TO AMBITION
IRELAND: FROM FUN TO AMBITION
The rise of the Celtic Tiger is in direct contrast to the stereotypical slow-moving rustic idyll framed by conventional Irish values. The thriving Irish economy has dramatically raised consumer expectations regarding brand standards, quality and choice. In a recent Economic Intelligence Unit survey seeking to create a new quality-of-life index, Ireland ranked No 1 among the 110 countries surveyed. At the same time, Ireland is also maintaining the best of tradition, the civic virtues that keep communities together, and the personal ones that make for strong supportive families. Ireland's new-found self-belief has grown into an optimistic view of the world, where anything is possible. This gives rise to consumers with open minds who are willing to adopt new brands quickly. Guinness has tapped into this mood with its "Believe" campaign, and the subsequent sponsorship of the All-Ireland Hurling championship.
UK: FROM FAIR PLAY TO PLAYFUL
British cultural identity has long been rooted in a keen sense of fair play and no-nonsense behaviour. While still a valid expression of Britishness, we are seeing a more playful identity emerging. The working week in Britain is a long one, people are living in fragmented households, away from family, and communities are breaking down. One in two people in Britain have had a Müller yogurt. It is a collective experience. The first ad features people dancing joyfully to Nina Simone's "Ain't Got No (I Got Life)". It's an optimistic, colourful depiction of life.
FRANCE: FROM THE ÉLITE TO THE STREET
France is famous for its intellectual and highbrow cultural traditions, and its passionate protection of the French language. Recent years have seen the rise of Verlan, the language of inverted syllables that was born in France's council estates. The expansion of Verlan into the mainstream is proof that France is beginning to enjoy subverting the most sophisticated and exacting of cultural standards. A key example of this has been the campaign by French museums to bring élite culture to the masses. Major events in 2004 included the third year of Paris Plage, when sand, palm trees, paddling pools and parasols take over the banks of the Seine by day, with sports and musical entertainment, and an outdoor public library.
SPAIN: FROM UNCERTAINTY TO CONFIDENCE
Traditionally, international rather than domestic brands fared far better in Spain. A lack of confidence in what "España" stands for, as a result of a dramatic and bloody 20th century, meant that "Made in Spain" was only motivating when it came to foodstuffs. The popularity of Spanish celebrities such as Penelope Cruz and the success of Spanish businesses in the international arena, with brands such as Zara, and Freixenet, has had a profound effect on the Spanish sense of pride and self-belief. Camper, the shoe manufacturer, has developed a philosophy based on a new and subtle take on the Mediterranean personality. It has subverted the "easy-going" cliché in its endline, "Walk, don't run", to embrace a bigger idea that directly takes on the sports-obsessed, aggressive global sports brands.
BELGIUM: FROM THE SANE TO THE INSANE
Belgian brands have not tended to act boldly or bravely. However, in recent years, a lot has been written about what is known as "Belgitude", a contraction of a certain "Belgian attitude". This manifests itself in cheeky, outrageous behaviour, as epitomised by Noël Godin, or l'Entarteur, who threw a cream pie at Bill Gates. Fashion designers such as Martin Margiela and Walter Van Beirendonck share the same Belgian flare for creative surrealism (as pioneered by Magritte), an anarchic spirit that is now being utilised by brands. Base is the third mobile network operator in Belgium, and uses a new set of Belgian values (individuality, flexibility, originality) and has presented them in controversial ways.
ITALY: FROM THE CAREFREE TO THE COMMITTED
We are used to considering Italy as a country of creatives. However, this has until now been limited to food, art, design and fashion. There has been a determined push among now to focus on new areas of expertise: finance, economics, publishing, politics, teaching, marketing and technology. The Italians are determined to apply their old skills to new areas. Alessi, the design company, has developed from a metallurgical and mechanical industry into one of the key factories of Italian design. Alessi was a pioneer in transforming household objects into little pieces of art.
NORWAY: FROM NATURE TO SCIENCE
Norway has traditionally been famous for produce such as sardines and Jarlsberg cheese, or Helly Hansen wet-weather gear. However, during the last few years, Norway has been transformed from a natural resource-based economy to a knowledge society. Norwegian companies now work to develop cost-effective, environmentally sound and technologically advanced solutions. Joint ventures with foreign companies has promoted the development of new areas of national expertise, including software and communications technology, space-related industries and biotechnology. Stokke, the furniture design company, has revolutionised how children experience life around the dining table with its Tripp Trapp chair, marrying functional design with a philosophy based on human well-being.
GERMANY: FROM EFFICIENCY TO HOPE
Recent years have seen a decline of trust in traditional German values. Germans are now looking for brands that offer new certainties, and some kind of hope. Air Berlin is a classic example of a brand using redefined German values to become a potent, future-facing symbol for a people looking for confidence. It has refused to accept the traditional equations that high-quality air travel equals high prices, and low prices means little or no service. Led by one of the most energetic and determined individuals in German business, Joachim Hunold, it offers exceptional standards of customer care, which is reflected in its pricing system. It is also an enlightened employer, as demonstrated by the high number of women in leading positions.
THE NETHERLANDS: FROM CALVINISM TO SELF-EXPRESSION
HANS BRINKER BUDGET HOTEL
The Dutch natural inclination is to be slightly underdressed: casual Friday in the Netherlands will find everyone wearing the same gear, determined not to draw attention to themselves. Equality is no longer seen as the greatest good. Being different is not something to be scared of, as long as there is mutual respect. The Hans Brinker Budget Hotel shows the way that Dutch brands are now beginning to express themselves. While still capitalising on an old Dutch virtue of thriftiness, the tone is aggressive, loud and brash.
GREECE: FROM THE ANCIENT TO THE CUTTING EDGE
The Greeks are often perceived to be disorganised and chaotic. Maybe it's the plate smashing. But over recent years there is evidence to suggest that this perception isn't wholly fair. Greeks are burning the midnight oil. According to Eurostat's 2003 "Living Conditions in Europe", Greeks lead the EU in percentage of people that work more than 48 hours per week.
Coming out of nowhere five years ago, Korres looked at the abundant herbs, oils and fruits that are indigenous to Greece and bet that there was a market for natural cosmetics. Using stylish design and packaging, that wager has paid off, as Korres premium products have created a new category in Greece. The company also has outlets in Paris and London, and distribution across the US.
SWEDEN: FROM INTROVERT TO EXTROVERT
The history of Sweden is a history of battling against the climate, the cold and the dark, against the barren grounds and deep forests. This made them hard workers for whom free time was for rest rather than for social exchange. Spontaneous meetings were rare and there was no tradition of pubs or cafés. This has led to a shyness and reserved nature. The Swedish term Jantelagen is the unspoken rule that will strike if you overly assert yourself or get boastful. The hard-working Swedes are now being replaced by a generation of self-confident, expressive, creative, nonconformist youngsters. They have access to a great free education, and are equipped with English as a joint first language with Swedish, and computers as a second. The attitude is one of individualism rather than collectivism.
SBAB, a state-owned mortgage lender that plays by its own rules, exhibits this new-found assertiveness. A recent campaign saw the chief executive challenge the big banks to a football match. One bank actually came forward and beat SBAB 5-1 in a televised match. SBAB apologised to its fans, explaining that commitment to low-rate mortgage offers had distracted the team from training.
SWITZERLAND: FROM QUALITY TO QUIRKY TEAM
The relative isolation of the Swiss, both culturally and emotionally, has led to them having quite a cold perception of their national identity - they don't feel that passion, cheerfulness or vivacity are typical traits, for example. In recent times, however, stalwart institutions have come under fire. Swiss banking secrecy has fallen into international disrepute. The national airline, Swissair, was dissolved in 2001. There were wrangles leading up to the national fair Expo 02, and also the Skyguide catastrophe in the same year. These disappointments have had a major impact on the Swiss psyche, but have also had some quite positive effects, forcing a more progressive culture with an ability to start playing with old concepts of tradition and quality.
Switzerland has always been famous for its mountains, and is about as far from any ocean - or success in international sailing - as one can get. In 2000, however, Team Alinghi was formed with the ambitious goal of winning the America's Cup. This task was duly fulfilled on 2 March 2003. The Alinghi team brought the America's Cup back to Europe for the first time in 152 years. It was sponsored by UBS, Infonet, Audemars Piguet, SGS, Nespresso and MSC, who were proud to be associated with such a radical expression of Swiss ability.
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