MEDIA: There can be no such thing as the death of society

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?

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.


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