The meaning of 'British'

It's no longer cricket, warm beer or stiff upper lips. Roger Trapp hears the marketing men

Even in this age of globalisation, "Britishness" is a concept familiar to people around the world. But powerful as they are, images of beefeaters, Buckingham Palace, red buses and the like are for the most part old-fashioned, and have more to do with this country's heritage than its future.

Perhaps it is down to the arrival of a new government or maybe the approach of the millennium, but suddenly all kinds of people are re-examining the notion in an attempt to - in marketing speak - reposition a country that was once synonymous with trade and enterprise.

Earlier this week, the Design Council published a report called New Brand for New Britain that urged politicians, business leaders and the media to work together to promote an image of the country that boost exports and inward investment. Stressing that it was not talking about redesigning the flag or changing the national anthem, it proposed the celebration of Britain's strengths in creativity, innovation and design - as epitomised by its success in such fields as fashion, music and Formula One racing car manufacture.

However, the day before, BBC Television's Money Programme featured identity consultancy Wolff Olins proposing a new flag featuring the single word "Britain" in white on a red and blue ground and an anthem that refers to the British landscape rather than victories overseas.

Although the consultancy's intention was to use the national brand as some kind of endorsement that might complement such initiatives as regional tourism promotions, it found little favour with business leaders.

Nevertheless, the British Council is planning a conference on reinventing Britain for later in the year, while in the meantime a group of business people is meeting to examine "the concept of Britishness, and its value as a marketing and promotional tool".

The Walpole Committee was established in 1992 by a group of leading UK companies which believe that British excellence is built on such principles as quality, craftsmanship, reliability and a combination of innovation and tradition, and is devoting its annual seminar on 3 June to the subject "The competitive edge of the British brand".

Walpole Committee director general John Russell says that speakers such as Roger Putnam, sales and marketing director of (US-owned) Jaguar Cars, and Anthony Sell, chief executive of the British Tourist Authority, will deliver valuable insights into the use of Britishness as a way of marketing products or services.

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