Brexit challenges Britain’s global image of openness and tolerance, but “Cool Britannia” has what it takes to avoid being suddenly rebranded as uncool just because it quits the EU, advertising professionals say.
From music to film and fashion, Britain has for decades enhanced its image as a modern and dynamic culture. The ease of immigrating and working in Britain helped it build a reputation as a welcoming and hospitable society.
But the vote to leave the European Union last June sent a troubling message of tighter border controls and an exit from the EU’s single market.
“Brexit is a self-inflicted wound because you are putting the image of openness at risk, that’s dangerous,” said Matt Scheckner, founder and executive director of Advertising Week. “So to send the message that Britain is open for business is vitally important.”
The effusive New Yorker organised this week the fifth London version of Advertising Week, which attracted 40,000 industry professionals to four days of seminars and events in the capital’s trendy neighbourhood of Soho.
“The things that make British culture unique remain. Music, fashion, British content, creative content, television, film. I would say all those things are not at risk, because they are driven by creative people,” said Scheckner.
“But when you look at things like tourism, which is a very big industry, when you look at businesses, it has to employ young talent, the risk is being viewed as an unfriendly place for talent, for young people,” he added.
At Advertising Week, dominated by young professionals with an international outlook, there were few supporters of Brexit.
Brexit “is an inward-looking and insular process by itself” said Melanie Read of the Aesop agency.
But most advertising execs still think it’s possible to save Britain’s brand by emphasising the positive.
“People will have to reassert the strengths of the country, the cultural strengths, in their creation,” said Matt Donegan, managing director at Social Circle marketing agency.
Similarly, advertising professionals thought Britain could emphasise other, intangible advantages such as its stable political and legal system, a qualified English-speaking workforce and even the capacity of the British people to take the best from foreign cultural influences.
Adept marketers could even turn divided public opinion into a positive — presenting a diversity of views as a counterpoint to a uniform, inward-looking bloc.
Richard Staplehurst, a partnerships manager at the Latimer agency, said he remains optimistic on the ability of young people, who mostly voted to remain in the EU, to keep good vibes flowing.
“There will be enough social media activism to show the country is open,” he said. “Many people will say ‘it’s not fair, we want you to come’.”
Private activism could act as a counterweight to the often divisive public political debate.
“We are naturally outward-looking and naturally innovative,” Secretary of State for International Trade Liam Fox told AFP.
“It is not because we are leaving the EU that our great culture will disappear,” added Latimer’s Staplehurst.