Neil Christie of W+K London: what Scottish independence could mean for brands

Clearly there are more important issues than marketing to consider when thinking about Scottish independence, but being up in Scotland on business in the days before the referendum led me to think about what a yes vote for independence might mean for brands that use aspects of Britishness to define their appeal.

6a00d8341c823e53ef01a73e13f6cc970d-400wiOnes that come to mind include Burberry, Lambs Navy Rum (left), Hovis, Mini and BA which, since the days of ‘the world’s favourite airline’, has had an assocation with national pride in international success.

What would a ‘yes’ vote for Scottish independence mean for these avowedly British brands? If Britain no longer includes Scotland, what will ‘Britishness’ signify to the Scots? If a vote for independence is a vote for disassociation from ‘British’ values in favour of distinctively Scottish values, does that de-position British brands and put them at a disadvantage when targetting the Scots?

And will it change what Britishness means to the English, Irish and Welsh? Might ‘British’ values effectively become a synonym for English, leading to a lack of relevance in the rest of the UK?

I’d argue that it’s not hard to think of attributes that are distinctively Scottish rather than British: proud, rebellious, dour, wry, frugal, etc. It’s harder to think of attributes that are distinctively British rather than English. And if British brands become merely English, that may narrow their appeal.

And if brands can’t trade on Britishness any more, never again will we see genius like this, which would be a shame:

Mind you, it’s not hard to imagine Irn Bru running a campaign along similar lines to the one above if Scotland were to vote yes for independence: “I’m Joe Broon and I drink Irn Bru! Come and get me, ye auld Etonians!” Smart Scots brands will no doubt be hoping and planning to tap into the popular mood, whichever way the vote goes.

Christie is adamantNeil Christie, a Caledonian himself, is managing director of Wieden+Kennedy London

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About Stephen Foster

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Stephen is a former editor of Marketing Week and London Evening Standard advertising columnist. He wrote City Republic for Brand Republic and is a partner in communications consultancy The Editorial Partnership.