The Queen’s Diamond Jubilee and the forthcoming Olympic Games has sparked something of a patriotic revival among the public (though just how deep it goes and how long it will last is anyone’s guess), and it seems many of the nation’s best loved household brands are trying to cash in on this cultural fervour in one way or another. Brands like Ryvita, Kellogg’s and Marks and Spencer have all introduced British themed packaging and promotions, while virtually every women’s retailer has a model wearing a deconstructed Union Jack T-Shirt in the window. The flag is owned by us all and in the context of Queen Elizabeth’s 60 year reign and times of austerity, it is reminiscent of values like community, unity and pulling together to get through.
Now retailers and brands are always hot on seasonal trends with supermarkets now dedicating entire aisles to ‘seasonal’ products – from Valentine’s Day to Halloween; but the current Britannia mania is on an entirely different scale altogether. Indeed the Jubilee and the London Olympics coinciding in the same summer is an extremely rare collision of events promoting national unity – as rare as the recent transit of Venus across the sun.
Normally, brands create packaging that will visually differentiate them on the shelf and clearly reflect their own brand identity and values; now they are temporarily setting all this aside and are instead producing designs of red, white and blue, or some geometric design that clearly resembles the Union Jack. Against all previous wisdom, brands now look remarkably similar to one another, and somehow they planned this in advance without any form of central coordination. One can only assume that they foresaw how powerful the ‘British’ brand would become and were willing to sacrifice their individuality to get a piece of it.
Firstly, we see clearly how brands appeal to people’s emotions. Why would a brand like Ryvita invest in developing a whole new range of ‘British’ designs for its products that are only intended to last for the summer? Because they want to be associated with the “feel good” factor of all that is taking place in wider culture, and want us to feel something of the happy nostalgia we’re all enjoying when we see their packet on the shelf. They’ve not replaced their packaging because there was anything wrong with the old one, but because so many of us “love being British” right now. It’s emotional -pure and simple.
Secondly, and perhaps most interesting from a visual perspective, is how countless designers have simultaneously created their own versions of the Union Jack without any looking exactly the same. Some designs feature unique pantone combinations of red, white and blue. Others have adopted an entirely different colour palette whilst retaining the geometric look of the Union Jack. Others have deconstructed the geometry while retaining the traditional colours. The British flag lends itself to so many design variations due to its simplicity, geometry and symmetry, and the fact that it’s not subject to copyright infringement. The flag is the logo of the British brand and we recognise it in all its new and creative forms.
Finally, one is left wondering how such brands will change once the cultural and retail-fuelled hysteria for the flag and all it represents has died down. Will brands simply revert back to their previous packaging or will they create new designs to take their brands forward into the autumn? Will they retain an air of ‘nostalgia’ and more subtle connections with the ‘British brand’ or seek to separate themselves from it? No doubt each marketing department and their designers will take a slightly different approach but it is likely that the current fad will leave a lasting impression on consumer brands and designs for some years to come.