Now for a new kind of cricket test


Matthew Rowan
Saturday 14 June 1997 23:02

Britain is dead, long live Britain. On these pages a few weeks ago, we discussed an initiative from the corporate identity consultancy Wolff Olins to create a new image for our country based not on former glories but modern values like "community", "diversity" and "creativity". This shift was reflected in its prototype flag, which dispensed with the Union Jack and instead featured the single word "Britain" on a red and blue background.

A theoretical brand this may have been but already the philosophy behind it has taken off thanks to BA's new-style aircraft, which will no longer carry a Union Jack-style motif, but instead a series of colourful "world images" designed by artists from around the world. The logic behind the move is examined elsewhere in today's paper, but one of the driving forces was customer research showing that the emphasis on "British" was perceived as patriarchal and overbearing. It was in part to address this negative that the company sought images which would demonstrate what it saw as the defining British values of the 1990s, such as "open-mindedness" and "innovation".

Predictably, the move has provoked a patriarchal and overbearing response from commentators who complain that the company seems ashamed of where it comes from - a criticism that might have more validity if the name on the side of the planes was "Aeroflugen Van der Valk Poirot of Arabia"; but British Airways it remains. And whatever the critics might say, it is clear that a new identity is needed for a country which offers a mish-mash of cultures but rarely makes a virtue of its diversity.

To illustrate, a friend of mine stopped at a petrol station in America a few years ago and overhead one attendant exclaiming white-faced to the other: "These guys come from the same country as Boy George." What they should have said, of course, was: "These guys come from the same country as Boy George and John Redwood; what a wonderfully broad church and how typically British."

Nevertheless, now that BA has seen the light, can we expect other hallowed British institutions to present a new, cosmopolitan face to the rest of the world? Robert Ayling, the airline's chief executive, said he wanted an image that was more "global" and "caring", and it seems inevitable that this philosophy will be adopted by the SAS. After all, why indulge in hazardous pursuits like invading embassies when you could make a nice living showing "rough it' tourists how to survive only on hotel mini-bars and bar snacks? And then there's our current sporting ambassadors the British Lions. Admittedly, they would have to refrain from macho activities like playing rugby and instead adopt more "caring" attributes such as tending to sick animals, but at least then we might have donkeys led by lions.

However, for the ultimate in image makeovers I bring you stuffy old Lord's cricket ground. Mr Ayling also said that he wanted to celebrate the dynamics of a country that was now a world leader in fashion, music and concept art. So wouldn't it be nice if the denizens of the pavilion took the hint, trading in their MCC ties for togas and gold broaches and posing provocatively astride grand pianos while singing "La Marseillaise".

Today, if you didn't already know it, is European SunDay and all over Britain and the Continent "culturally appropriate" events will be taking place to demonstrate the benefits of renewable energy to householders and local businesses.

All very worthy, of course, but it's also Fathers' Day and the unreconstructed males among us aren't inclined to exert any energy - renewable or otherwise.

Alarmingly, the City editor informs me that his five-year-old son is refusing to co-operate on this auspicious occasion for dads. Why, he argues, should he celebrate Fathers' Day when there's no Sons' Day? To which point of view there's no response other than to pack him off to an exhibition on the benefits of sustainable energy. This cunning plan will give my benefactor some "quality time" while enabling him to discharge his paternal responsibility to provide entertainment which is both educational and informative. I fear, though, that his son will return more energetic than ever.

More than a game

It's Bonanza time for the people who brought us our bonanza. I refer not to the makers of the TV Western whose theme tune we keep humming when we're trying to think of a completely different theme tune, but to Waddington, the print and packaging group which has made around pounds 4m from mailing out windfall circulars.

Great news for the company, then, but slightly depressing news for those romantic souls who like to think that exciting products should always do better than plain old services. For Waddington, formerly John Waddington, used to make games until a few years ago when it decided that it couldn't match the might of its foreign competitors and sold the division to Hasbro, the US toys giant. And these weren't just any old games but ones that parents would buy for their children and then play themselves - household names like Cluedo, Monopoly and Subbuteo. How, it was asked at the time amid many a tantrum, could the company treat such glittering assets like, well, toys?

Since then the answer has become pretty clear, with pre-tax profits climbing from around pounds 8m when the games were still on board to pounds 32m in the year to March 1997. Waddington clearly hasn't forgotten its past, though, because it has been busy applying games theory to its commercial dealings - and not just the entrepreneurial flair needed to win at Monopoly. If you doubt that, let me expose how Cluedo was adapted to tempt us into voting for our windfalls: it was Miss Scarlet with the bung through the letter-box.

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