Wednesday, May 4, 2011

Dual Britannia

This flawless smile defies you to
make a British dental joke. Source
Is this the face that launched a thousand tweets?

It is! About 237 per second just before the service, if you trust the London Telegraph.

But if the royal wedding didn't slake your thirst for all things British, rest easy! Anglophiles will be delighted to hear that the wedding--which attracted about 2 billion viewers, inspired millions of Facebook status updates, and brought an estimated £630 million into the British economy--was little more than an appetizer, a teaser, a "dry run" for 2012.

According to the Bearsden Herald, British Prime Minister David Cameron believes the London Olympics and the Queen's Diamond Jubilee will present "a fantastic opportunity next year to show all faces of Britain both modern and traditional."

Oooooh, modern and traditional? Be still my corn-oil-clogged American heart! Kudos to the PM for recognizing the importance of branding and public diplomacy. And kudos for emphasizing multiple aspects of the nation's appeal. But let's hope Cameron navigates the rocky terrain of public diplomacy more successfully than Tony Blair.

In the 1990s, Great Britain--no doubt tired of its reputation as a dentally-challenged nation of stodgy, old-fashioned corgi-worshipers and cow-maddened, Cure-loving soccer hooligans--embarked on an ill-advised nation-branding campaign. (No, I'm not payed by the hyphen. But after that last sentence, I kind of wish I were.)

"Cool Brittania," as the campaign was dubbed, quickly became known as the Waterworld of nation-branding efforts: expensive, flashy and laughably unsuccessful.

From the Public Diplomacy wiki's entry on Nation Branding: "Intended to reinvent the U.K.’s image as an energized and liberalized nation, the campaign attempted to shed the traditionally formal image of Great Britain as well as reflect the shifting political model of the Blair administration... Despite the millions of dollars poured into the initiative, however, the campaign is largely considered a failure because of its limited focus, lackluster results, and the general perception, both within Britain and abroad, that the campaign’s gimmicky approach had actually hurt the nation’s international image."

Can Cameron avoid the pitfalls of his predecessor? Will the Olympics and the Diamond Jubilee drive up the nation's global stock? It's hard to say. Judging from purely superficial early speculation, London hasn't truly grasped the full potential of branding. Let's consider just for starters the 2012 Olympic logo--a nearly illegible jumble of numbers that looks sort of like a tangram after a long night at the pub--and the mascots--which Jon Stewart described as "creepy one-eyed circumcised penis monsters."

OK, so they've got some room to grow. But still, by all accounts, the royal wedding was a great success--not just for the happy couple and their families, but for the nation as a whole. With a little bit of coordination, Cameron can keep the anglophilia going. But that's the catch, of course. You can't just rest on your laurels and assume that big events = big publicity = big love. You've got to put some work into it.

Just ask Kevin Costner.


  1. Sorry, gotta disagree. Any branding based around Oasis and Blur has to be slightly cool and successful. Anything associated with a Ben and Jerry's flavor (vanilla with strawberries and chocolate-covered shortbread, yum) can't be such a failure. The failure came when the "New Labour" leader came to be seen as Bush's poodle.

  2. Thoughts on the target audience for all this Britain-branding? I've always wondered how rates of anglophilia compare between the US and other places. And if my suspicions are correct that anglophilia is higher amongst Americans, then them purty royals seem to be capitalizing on it with Prince Charles's recent visit and the just-announced California trip of the newlyweds...

  3. But what say ye about Prince Charles and his culinary tour? Your blog has been tragically silent on the subject!

  4. I hadn't noticed. I don't pay much attention to inbred royals.

  5. Ha! Should have specified. That last comment was to Jackie, who is very excited about sustainable agriculture. :-)