So Rover, no doubt the first of many, has decided to throw its lot
in with Cool Britannia (Campaign, last week). Out goes the imagery of
leather seats and walnut dashboards and in comes a young and funky
And why not? The old Rover image was horrendously outdated (viz the
hostage and the bomb disposal expert). In any case, the underlying
premise of Cool Britannia is that it gives marketers a new peg on which
to hang a different vision of their products.
But while I have no quarrel with Rover’s strategy, I question whether
the thinking behind Cool Britannia isn’t itself a bit flawed - a fear
borne out by the recently announced list of Millennium products.
If you look at them, and the full list ranges from a sports shoe to a
handbag, they are all niche products. Yes, the Lotus Elise is wonderful
and I love the new London taxi. I’ll be sending off for a box of
Remarkable Pencils (yes, really) and I shall admire from afar the MK16
Yet the selection underlines what we as a country have always known and,
in a perverse way, prided ourselves on: that when it comes to marginal
products, British inventiveness knows no bounds. Even the Dyson vacuum
cleaner (and isn’t it time we moved on to find another example of
British inventive talent?) is an upmarket product with a small target
But for mainstream, mass-market products with which to take on the world
- well, forget about it if you’re thinking British. Just ask yourself
where’s the British equivalent of the Walkman or Apple Mac?
Which brings us back to Cool Britannia. By definition, mass-market
products aren’t cool, so using Cool Britannia as a branding and
marketing device will keep products firmly in the box labelled ’nice but
niche’. Second, coolness is a transient state of being, so Cool
Britannia products will have a limited life span. It’s too late to
change now, but wouldn’t Smart Britannia have been a better label to
attach? It’s catchy and, just as important, it implies no limitation by
market size or time.
Not before time, a bright spark has had the idea of collecting as many
advertising and research papers as he can find from around the world
(including the complete works of the IPA Effectiveness Awards) and
putting them up on the Internet. So, starting this summer for an
entirely reasonable annual fee, researchers and planners can browse away
to their heart’s content.
And not before time, we might say.
But one of the things that strikes me about our industry compared, say,
with management or business theory, is the relative lack of ongoing
Sure, there are plenty of case histories and studies related to specific
brands, but marketing and advertising theory in the general or academic
sense seems to be stuck in a rut. There are familiar academics like
Andrew Ehrenberg and Philip Jones, plus the redoubtable Simon Broadbent.
But that’s about it. Our industry would gain immeasurably from some
fresh or challenging thinking, and some serious academic work would
bestow credibility on it.