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Divided Britain? Brands after Brexit

Divided Britain? Brands after Brexit

Brexit has exposed deep societal divisions within Great Britain. How can commonalities be identified amongst the British people so products can be advertised and appeal to the majority when the people are so divided?

You never get a second chance at a first impression

Culture is not in our DNA, but learned. In research made famous by Clotaire Rapaille, it is known that we learn through a combination of first experiences and accompanying emotions. Each emotional memory, or imprint, is unique to each culture, creating a reference system that conditions our decision-making process and defines who we are.

Think of your brain in three parts: The cortex processes reasoning and abstract thought, whereas the limbic system processes emotion. Dig a little deeper and you’ll reach the part of the brain that subconsciously processes your survival and reproductive instincts. In a battle between head versus heart, both lose to the survival instinct and it’s here where imprints reside. By understanding how this part of the brain interprets a product or brand, you will gain insight into consumers’ powerful unconscious associations. The culture code is simply a representation of one culture’s collective imprints. It’s more than just a stereotype: it’s a deep rooted instinct and driver of behaviour.

Cracking the code for Britain

Uncovering imprints for Britain through focus groups, participants told stories of: annual summer family holidays, recurring sporting events like the football World Cup, routines such as afternoon tea or watching soap operas, a hereditary society structure or class system, the Royal Family and celebrating their key milestones, or ingrained institutions like the BBC and National Health Service (NHS). The code for Britain is tradition.

When uncovering the code for the British, contradicting stories abound telling of a north-south divide yet a feeling of coming together in times of crisis: learning of the powerful British Empire but being a small island nation, complaining about institutions like the NHS but speaking with pride to others whose country does not have free healthcare, unemotional in adversity but letting your hair down afterhours, or articulating a contentious contradiction like ‘I’m not racist, but…’ or ‘I get where they’re coming from, but…’ The code for the British is ‘but…’

Tradition is very much a routine which provides comfort, security, familiarity or reliability; a physical reference point of nostalgia, something to look forward to, but also something which provides conflict if challenged or taken away. ‘But…’ is a state of mind, a contradictory story to increase the power of a message, seeing both sides of the coin or living on an axis between ‘stiff upper lip’ and ‘flamboyancy’.

Marketing on code

Marketing examples already exist that incorporate tradition and the appealing double nature of ‘but…’ in their messages. The slow and sexy television advertisements for Marks and Spencer, a company with strong heritage and tradition spanning 135 years, advertise extravagant produce but affordable. Carling’s recent #MadeLocal campaign showcases their tradition of brewing British beer, but highlights new ways they support local jobs and the economy.

Appealing to the majority from a mysterious familiarity that touches the very fundamental, almost primitive unconscious of a culture currently divided, that’s the impact of marketing on code.

Aarron Toal is a current PhD candidate at Durham University Business School, whose investigations focus on consumer psychology and decision-making with a thesis titled: Brands in the Brain after Brexit.

Aarron Toal is a PhD Candidate in Marketing with Durham University Business School. For more information on our PhD programmes visit

Published in IMPACT Magazine 1 July 2019

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