Nation’s identity in a state of flux

Electoral events in the past week, both here in the UK and in France, have brought under the spotlight the changing nature of a nation’s identity.

Just as brands have to adapt to a changing society, so do nations.

Although voters in the French Presidential elections have said ‘non’ to National Front candidate Jean-Marie Le Pen, the re-elected Jacques Chirac will have to tread carefully if he is to balance the interests of his own right-wing supporters and those on the liberal left who were prepared to compromise and back him.

Rather worryingly the UK, like France, had its own brush with the extreme right in last week’s local elections, when the British National Party won three seats in Burnley.

The two elections have given voice to the underlying tensions in changing nations.

In the case of the UK, the debate about national identity was already on the table following last year’s race riots and the announcement of plans for a citizenship test by Home Secretary David Blunkett.

The British brand is indeed in a state of flux.

Only 35 per cent of 20to 30-year-olds are prepared to describe themselves as British, according to research conducted by independent brand consultant Corporate Edge in conjunction with Marketing Week.

The research, conducted by an online poll of 1,000 British citizens in this age group and through a number of focus groups, showed that the nation’s image is stuck in the past and in need of updating.

Yet, when faced with a list of possible ambassadors for Britain, the same group favoured Prince William.

The younger generation has little allegiance to the nation, but they not yet appear ready to shake off all the traditional trappings for good.

As for future commercial brand ambassadors for the country, the young tend to favour entrepreneurial brands such as FCUK, Virgin, Patrick Cox and Dyson, over Marks & Spencer – a company well known for its failed foreign expansion plans.

But those brands and products seeking to establish a direct link with the British name are taking a risk. The British meat industry still faces an uphill struggle to convince overseas markets to take its produce, following the BSE crisis. On the other hand, after a mass outcry British Airways was forced to return to Union Jack-inspired tail fins after dabbling with a new set of designs.

As Britain changes, a new national identity should emerge, one that hopefully reflects attitudes such as tolerance and the broad ethnicity of the population, rather than bigotry and racism.

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