I was watching Question Time on the BBC in the UK yesterday evening and one of the topics of conversation was the recent Irish referendum on the Lisbon Treaty. I don’t want to get into the details of the treaty here, but basically it opens the door to the expansion of the EU.

The debate last night turned to the different attitudes of people in different countries to the EU or more specifically a central government. One of the points made was that while some people at least were happy with the idea of a central management system of some kind they maintained that the right of government as such and in particular law making should remain with the individual member states. The main reason seemed to be the belief that laws define a community and in particular nations, and I tend to agree.

Jerry Springer (I can’t imagine how he got there, but he did) who I’m being uncharacteristically generous when I say, was just about holding his own among far more eloquent and knowledgable speakers said that the individual states in the US had from many perspectives lost their identity and that the general move there and elsewhere around the world is toward a far less state-aware attitude, a point that other delegates were quick to point out to him did not apply to countries/states outside of the US. However, he was shrewd enough to identify that the real subject here is not so much national pride, but pride in community (my word not his) and “community” is equally likely to apply to any belief system, set of values or brand (again his viewpoint, my word).

Jerry was somewhat hampered by his limited vocabulary, but those who took the time, as I did, to try to work out what he was trying to say would have realised that he actually hit the nail on the head. Sadly it seemed that the rest of the forum didn’t take the time and the point was missed in one of those short embarrassed pauses that could be replaced by the phrase “what the **** is he whittering on about?”.

Jerry’s point was that though there are people who still retain pride in their nationality, this is but one of an infinite array of communities to which we as individuals may choose to belong. Communities are encapsulations of a common interest, values or opinions. Most traverse national boundaries. We can be British by birth but European, a treckie or anything else for that matter, by adoption. Lord knows, if our identities were compulsorily identified by nationality, nominated or natural, I’d be hard pushed to elect a country, I’ve lived in so many. I only remember that I started out in the UK because that’s where my mother hangs out and she’s not moved in all this time!

Happily, we don’t have to define ourselves by nationality, which defines the challenge that I frequently refer to in my on-going debate about “National Branding” and one to which the UK is sadly failing to rise. Its OK for some, but others prefer to hang their hat on a sport, or other special interest. There are communities like FaceBook or World of Warcraft, the mythical world that keeps millions of sad bastards worldwide glued to their computers for days and nights on end. For these people this is their world and how they want to be identified. This perspective is the playing field where brand communities compete for members with nations, interests, movies, music and many more delineators. You don’t even have to be an exclusive member of any one community, you might feel it takes a few communities to accurately represent your personality, interests or values and while one of these that you choose might be a country, your national brand doesn’t have to be your primary definition. We also migrate between communities as we age, as we fall victim to outside influences, as fashions change or brand change or disappoint us.

An example of this in action is the current European football championships (no its not “soccer” its European so its definitely “football) from which we Brits, because we are pants at the game, are excluded. Having paid up-front for the rights to televise the event well before England, Scotland, Wales and Ireland were sent back to their changing room, the networks had to set about garnering some interest from us. It seems it wasn’t much of a challenge. Brits have adopted competing nations and supported them through the campaign because they represent something that we can relate to – Croatia because we admire their grit in rebuilding their nation after their war, Turkey because some guy offered you fifty camels for your girlfriend last time you were on holiday there, Portugal because its where Manchester United’s Ronaldo comes from, or the Netherlands … well … because you like orange!

Once again its all about brands. Brands are present in every aspect of our lives and smart marketers (and Jerry Springer) understand that and use it to their advantage. Its called brand-building.

Michael Weaver
June 22, 2008

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