NEWS13 March 2024

Brands should explore changing ideas of ‘Britishness’ to stay relevant

Annual Conference 2024 News Trends UK

UK – Ideas of ‘Britishness’ are evolving, and brands should interrogate some of the underlying tensions in the UK when deciding on how to market in the country, the Market Research Society (MRS) Annual Conference heard.

Sign Salad at MRS Annual Conference

In a session about a Sign Salad project with Heinz on its branding and communications in the UK, Katrina Russell, director at Sign Salad, said there was competition in the UK between visions of the future and nostalgia about its past.

“Since World War Two, Britishness has been caught in this tension between looking forward and looking back,” Russell said. “One the one hand we have Britishness as rural ‘smallness’, insular serenity, community spirit and values, or is Britishness about urban innovation, looking outward and technical expertise?

“We have on the one hand an emphasis on regal formality and a historically backed sense of authority and order, or is it about the Sex Pistols, rebellion and rejection of order that makes Britain? And then we have restrictive notions of ‘real’ Britishness versus this idea of thriving multiculturalism that is the backbone of what makes Britain ‘Britain’.”

There was also historical attitudes towards ‘pomp and circumstance’ that are evolving, Russell added: “Britain is known for its hallmarks of formality, order and deference to power, with a real emphasis on hierarchy, even though that’s changing.”

Alex Gordon, chief executive officer at Sign Salad, told the conference that the project used cultural foresight and semiotics to help Heinz update its ideas of Britishness to fit in with societal changes.

Despite being an American company, Heinz is seen as a cultural icon in the UK for its beans and soups, and the brand wanted to engage more in cultural conversations at a master brand level and across their portfolio, to refresh and modernise their touchpoints for Gen Z and Millennials and reduce their dependence on nostalgia in their advertising.

“Branding is all about storytelling,” said Gordon. “Culturally iconic brands tell powerful stories, and then become cultural symbols and artefacts. Therefore, culturally iconic brands in Britain must be relevant and sensitive to the changing tides and cultural narratives of Britishness.”

Sign Salad found that Heinz’s historical and current communications in the UK focused on community, nostalgia and resilient spirit, with an idea of ‘make do and mend’ and championing the humble and nostalgic togetherness.

Key tensions in the brand included an escape from the everyday but also ongoing comfort and reliability; championing the humble and the underdog but also, at times, acting as an authority figure; and presenting a nostalgic vision of British togetherness, but also sometimes being exclusive to some sections of society.

The project led to new communications and branding, with the findings helping brand positioning, as well as providing education for the senior leadership on British cultural norms and changing attitudes, with many of the company’s senior leadership team having never lived in the UK or not lived there long.