by Mitun Thaker
Boris Johnson said Brexit hands the U.K. the opportunity to “renew itself” and herald a “golden age” as he began what his government described as a fast track process to ratify the divorce deal with Brussels and take Britain out of the European Union on 31st January. Whether you believe Boris Johnson’s sentiments or not, Brexit is looming and will undoubtedly bring a new age to Britain, for good or for worse.
This will also have an impact on British culture, British heritage and what being from the UK really means - will there be more of a focus on British suppliers and British produce with imports from Europe becoming more expensive? Will people become more patriotic and embrace their roots? Will people pack their bags and move out of the UK because they feel they don’t want to be associated with the isolated move for ‘Brand Britain’? Britain has always been revered for it’s outward-looking traditions so the move to a more insular and self interested nation will certainly have an effect on British culture and how it is perceived around the world.
For some brands, the label ‘Made in Britain’ is a core selling point and crucial to how they market themselves around the world. But if Britain is having an identity crisis could this have a big impact on how heritage brands are perceived and will it see more brands pivot to underplay their Britishness?
There are signs that British brands are thriving in a post-Brexit world, which in part is due to the devaluation of the sterling, making goods cheaper to sell abroad. Burberry saw a 30% jump in sales in three months following the Brexit vote and spending by overseas visitors rose by 8% in 2018, which shows that British goods and Britain as a destination still has big appeal.
While ‘Brand Britain’ seems to be stronger than ever, it is still not clear what the long term impact of Brexit will be on British culture and how British heritage will be perceived by people. It definitely seems that young people were more in the remain camp and feel disconnected from the move towards an independent nation.
The recent climate strikes, led by Greta Thunberg, show how politically galvanised the next generation is, with many vocalising concerns about ethical issues and sustainability, and boycotting brands that do not keep up with the times and show a lack of responsibility for the impact they are having in the world. If young people become increasingly frustrated with the direction the country is going in, this could have an impact on British brands long term and taint the perception of ‘Brand Britain’ for the next generation of consumers.
In order to get a real opinion from young people, we asked a selection of 18 - 30 year olds around the UK what they thought of ‘Brand Britain’ and how they thought Brexit would impact it.
“Functionality, classic styles, quality, heritage, legacy, understated”
Mich, Research Analyst, 23
“Overall, British brands represent tradition and class (Burberry, Erdem)- but I think this is quickly fading Post-Brexit as we become the laughing stock of the world!”
Gurneet, Marketing Manager, 27
British brands to me represent a more classical or traditional style, and perhaps not as experimental, Alexander McQueen and Vivienne Westwood did break barriers and were innovative.
Laura, Designer, 21
“I think there is yes. Especially outside of the UK. It's always represented premium/quality goods”
Sarah, Student, 20
Definitely for a certain customer base- I think people think that being 'Made in Britain' equals quality-made and sleep better in the knowledge that their products aren't made far oversees which they equate with sweatshops. I personally don't think 'Made in Britain' automatically means quality- but it is something people buy into and will pay more for.
Tharindu, Designer, 28
“No, I think it’s loosing it’s appeal as I’m seeing more innovation coming from international brands”
Luke, Music Label Owner, 30
“It's difficult to tell. One thing for sure is that the next gen are not happy with the current political and social climate within the UK. This could very easily have an impact on what it means to be British and if it becomes more trendy to buy brands from outside of the UK. I think outside of the UK it won't have a huge impact in the short term - who knows in the long term”
Tom, Marketing Director, 30
“To an extent, yes. I think we will become more isolated as a nation in terms of importing/exporting goods and so British Brands will either become a luxury/rarity if the market crashes, or something people wouldn't want to go near”
Pia, Sales Manager, 29
“I don’t think it will have a huge impact on how people perceive British brands outside of the UK. Within the UK it all depends on how brands communicate and show that they progressive. Young people in particular are more sensitive than ever to brands that are not putting out a positive message”
Kesia, Marketing Assistant, 22
“It will saturate it to a caricature. Being apart from the EU will mean we will rely on 'British' things when in reality, 'British' things and the brand of Britain is flimsy. People will attempt to reclaim 'Britishness', and in doing so, it will become a parody.”
Aimie, Student, 21
“In time to come I think it could strengthen it to be honest. Britain being its own stand alone entity with the ability to create a real sense of national pride.”
Kelvyn, Artist, 25
“I think it may drive out many interesting creatives who feel unwelcome in the new political climate, particularly migrants and people of colour.”
Stuart, Architect, 28
Not in a direct way. I buy clothes because I like them and because of the style/quality. I would avoid a brand like Canada Goose that has received negative press because of the way they operate and animal cruelty etc but I wouldn't boycott a British brand because of Brexit. However you are influenced by cultural shifts in perception so longer term that could have an influence.
Tom, Marketing Director, 30
It's a tricky one - It definitely could have a negative impact, particularly if the economy goes down hill. At the same time it could easily have a positive impact. We really don't know what's going to happen which is a little scary! One thing for certain is that Brexit has put the UK in an unnecessarily vulnerable position - it's a big gamble and one that I personally would not have chosen.
Mia, Accountant, 26
Yes. I think that Brexit has already impacted British brands the day that it was announced along with the rest of the British economy. I think Brexit will be a big talking point in boardrooms across the country and brands will need to be very strategic in how they maneuver the next 5 years.
Max, Events Producer, 24
I don’t really think so. A stable brand speaks to a consumer beyond just being from Britain - people buy brands because of the product and this will not change. Obviously if the economy goes drastically downhill then it will have an impact.
Sophie, Student, 22
It’s clear that in general, young people do not feel very positive about a Post-Brexit world and think it will have a negative impact on British culture. A lot of respondents felt that the move towards a more insular mindset was a step in the wrong direction and that as a nation we should be building bridges not destroying them.
However, the main consensus was that Brexit will not affect young peoples decision to shop brands that are from the UK and in the short term at least will not have an impact on how British brands are perceived.
Both politically and environmentally there is a great deal of uncertainty over the outcome of the upcoming years and brands will need to be ready to react quickly in order to keep up with potential changes. Staying ahead of the curve and understanding cultural nuances will always be a key way to ensure that a brand will be relevant and communicate to their audience in the right way. More than ever, British brands need to stand for more than just being ‘Born in Britain’ and start to have a positive impact on the world. Brands that do not adapt will inevitably fall to the waste side.