Bill Clinton’s recent proclamation of ’a new Britain, and a new
America’ confirmed the global resonance of ’New Britain’. The phrase
seems to have captured a new mood in the country. But what makes New
Britain any more meaningful than ’New Whizzo’ washing-up powder?
New Labour’s landslide victory, and the extraordinary public response to
Diana’s death, point us towards what lies at the heart of New Britain -
the re-emergence of the importance of community in British life.
Successful brands of the future will be those which understand that no
consumer is an island.
At the height of her reign, Margaret Thatcher declared that ’there is no
such thing as society’. It seemed to many at the turn of the decade that
the typical citizen drove his car to work, sat in front of his PC at the
office, and filled out private health insurance forms in front of the TV
in the evening without a clue about the world outside. Blair’s victory
was the first key indicator that reports of the death of community have
been much exaggerated.
The response to Diana’s death was significant, too, not because it
proved the British could cry, but because it showed how deep our longing
is to feel part of something greater than ourselves.
This doesn’t mean that the changes wrought on our society over the past
15 years have not had a lasting effect. Instead, communities have
re-emerged in new forms, with changes in mobility and telecommunications
meaning that they are no longer predominantly locally based - and that
they are more likely to be chosen by their participants rather than
given by an accident of birth.
The most successful brands of the future will be those that take
advantage of this desire to make individual choices in a communal
Asda’s decision to broadcast the Archbishop of Canterbury’s Christmas
sermon in its stores was a recognition that supermarkets have become a
replacement for one traditional centre of community - the church.
Marmite’s decision to highlight the polarising effect of its product
gambled on the belief that consumers would want to align themselves as
part of a community of Marmite lovers - and it seems to have worked. The
Firefly Web site, which uses an intelligent software agent to learn
about the tastes of its users and recommend music to them, is a great
example of the power of communities of interest to enhance individual
Of course, some brands have always recognised the importance that wider
communities of brand users play in individual consumer choices: Coke’s
’I’d like to teach the world to sing’ was a powerful example.
The emergence of New Britain has simply made explicit that the benefits
of increased individual choice do not mean that consumers think of no
one but themselves when they choose a politician or a brand. On the
contrary, the benefits of their choices are enhanced, both rationally
and emotionally, by the knowledge that a wider group is making the same
choice. Brands which leverage the power of communities can be as
optimistic about the future as today’s New Britons.
Ian Leslie is account planner at J Walter Thompson.