OPINION1 November 2013

Profit through patriotism

Brand UK is going strong, and many marketing campaigns are looking to capitalise on the resurgence of British patriotism. But it’s not a guaranteed win, argues Danni Findlay.

The monarchy for many is synonymous with ‘Britishness’, so it is unsurprising that marketers aiming for a patriotic campaign often link their adverts to the monarchy or royal occasions. The royal birth inspired adverts such as Coca-Cola’s ‘Share a Coke with Wills and Kate’, Warburtons ‘One’s bun is done’, and Tesco’s ‘Raise a glass to the new arrival’.

However, there are question marks around how much these events directly boost sales. Even though the Centre for Retail Research predicted the diamond jubilee and the royal birth would increase spending by £409 million and £423 million respectively, retail sales dropped by 0.7% during the jubilee, the sharpest drop in two years, and the royal birth also failed to match expectations.

Put simply, royal occasions don’t get most of us as excited as some marketers would like to think. Our research showed that the number of people who said they feel patriotic increased only 4% after the jubilee to 53% and, when questioned on what they would do to mark the royal birth, 78% of individuals told us they would do ‘nothing at all’- hardly an enthused response.

….and sport steals the throne

By contrast, sporting events increase patriotic feeling significantly more than royal occasion. During the Olympics, patriotism reached a peak of 61%, far higher than the 53% recorded immediately after the jubilee.

The impact of sporting occasions on retail sales is further illustrated by Andy Murray winning Wimbledon this year. His victory was partially credited with increasing high street sales nearly 4% in August this year compared with the month before. Additionally, the Olympics were estimated to have contributed £9.9 billion to the UK economy, with a future £41 billion forecast by 2020.

“If a product is aimed at older, wealthier men living in the south of England, you may be on to a winner. If your audience is younger, other marketing strategies make work better.”

The profitability of patriotism

But while sporting occasions make us get our wallets out more readily than royal ones, this is far from a one-size-fits-all model. Patriotic feeling also differs by demographic, social and geographical factors. Our research shows northern regions show less patriotic feeling compared with the south, men claim to be more patriotic than women, and those over the age of 65 are more likely to feel patriotic than younger generations. There is an economic disparity too, with wealthier groups generally feeling more patriotic than those who are less well-off.

There are certain sectors where links to Britishness make more sense than others. Fresh produce is one area where using Brand UK makes sense, linking your product to a clear and trusted source – especially in the aftermath of ‘horsegate’. However, even here we are seeing movement away from consumers simply wanting to see a Union flag. For those who care about providence rather than just cheap food, the latest trend is towards local sourcing. People want to know which region, county and even which farm their food is coming from – meaning the importance of the UK brand is diminished somewhat.

Clearly, we do all get caught up in the moment from time to time and sales have been shown to rise around events such as Wimbledon. But two points are worth noting. Firstly, sporting events are far more influential than royal events and are more likely to get us spending. Secondly, certain groups will be influenced far more by patriotic campaigns than others. If a product is aimed at older, wealthier men living in the south of England, you may be on to a winner. If your audience is younger, other marketing strategies make work better.

Danni Findlay is head of retail at Marketing Sciences.