Cool Britannia no media fad.

In the year and a bit since Tony Blair’s New Labour crushed the Conservatives at the polls, much has been made of the sweeping political and social changes the Government has introduced.

From constitutional reform to new thinking about welfare, from a planned minimum wage to the increased prominence of women in public life – not to mention the many changes taking place in marketing and branding – we do indeed appear to be living in a New Britain.

And there has been a conscious attempt to capitalise on the idea of New Britain, not just overseas, but also here at home. The aim is to present a coherent image of a forward thinking, creative country. Over the past few months, we have been bombarded by images and views on “Cool Britannia” and what it is like to be living in New Britain.

But what about the public? Do they see New Britain and Cool Britannia as just the latest buzzwords and nothing more than hype? Or has there really been a major cultural shift which will influence what we buy, where we buy it, and who we trust to make it?

Consultancy Dragon International has recently explored this question, running research groups in London and Leeds with people from a broad range of backgrounds. The groups were asked what they thought of the “New Britain” concept and whether it was affecting the way they thought about brands.

Dragon admits it was surprised by the results of its research. Linda Mooney, a senior consultant at Dragon, says: “To be fair, we saw it as nothing more than an exercise to confirm what we believed to be a clever piece of political hype. We expected to advise clients to ignore this latest phenomenon and treat it as no more than a passing issue that had just happened to catch the media’s attention.”

Instead, the research suggests that New Britain is in fact a well defined, well understood, relevant and – to consumers – an attractive concept.

Mooney says: “The results from this research were so consistent and clear that they should not be dismissed as some transient phase.” Instead, New Britain really does mark a fundamental shift in the way consumers relate to brands.

Dragon now argues that New Britain is a strong and appealing concept and can work as a powerful tool in categorising well-known brands, retailers and companies.

Previous attempts to analyse consumer behaviour in terms of their major concerns have tended to focus on single issues – for example, the Green consumer movement of the early Nineties. Incidentally, this was first identified and analysed in this country by Dorothy Mackenzie, one of the founding directors of Dragon, when she was at Brand New, the new product development wing of design company Michael Peters Group (MW March 24 1989).

New Britain “is made up of big themes that won’t go away, like female power, multiculturalism, openness, Europe and technology”, says Mooney. “It symbolises a shift in aspirational, social and cultural values, as well as a shift in political priorities. For many, the components of new Britain may be aspirational – but that no longer means they are unachievable.”

The concept of New Britain is likely to affect people’s short-term attitudes and long-term behaviour, both as members of the public and consumers. Companies and brands need to be aware of this, argues Dragon. Not so they can jump on the bandwagon, but to ensure they continue to connect with the moods and aspirations of their consumers.

Brands and companies should remain true to their core values and principles, as consumers are looking for New British brands to demonstrate integrity.

Perceived fit between brands and companies and “New Britain” may become a positive contributor to corporate or brand reputations and so may subtly influence purchasing decisions.

Many of the brands considered to fit with New Britain were seen to be highly distinctive – perhaps even quirky – and slightly eclectic. Even some of the brands that were long-established, like Cadbury and HP Sauce, were seen to epitomise New Britain because of their continual ability to keep abreast of consumer expectations.

In fact, although New Britain is seen by consumers as very modern, there is a strong sense that it encompasses important aspects of heritage – expressed most often in some kind of return to traditional British values such as tolerance, fairness, humour, integrity and entrepreneurialism.

So what are the implications for brands and companies? Dragon argues that companies and brands need to demonstrate more transparency and accessibility to consumers. Company policies and brand strategies should aim as far as possible to fit in with aspirational New British values.

Perhaps, more importantly, marketers need to be more aware of what is going on in the broader culture and should be attuned to a new body of opinion makers who have considerable power over consumers.

Ultimately, however, companies and brands will have to offer the basic elements of quality, value, honest information and a good reputation.

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