News Analysis: By George, Do They Have It?

Article excerpt

Brands seeking to tap into the essence of Englishness may find its core attributes tough to define.

It is only necessary to look back as far as Mother's Day for evidence of how valuable commemorative days are to marketers. National days, too, offer a rich vein of branding opportunities. St Patrick's Day, for example, is always accompanied by myriad green-tinged campaigns intended to tap into the sociable characteristics of the Irish.

By contrast, St George's Day, which falls this Sunday, has been far less effectively appropriated. It has a long tradition of being celebrated in the English shires, with traditional activities such as morris dancing and battle re-enactments. But such events are relatively niche, reflecting the unease with which notions of Englishness have been perceived in recent years.

In a speech to the Institute of Public Policy Research last March, former home secretary David Blunkett referred to Englishness as becoming synonymous with a xenophobic 'little Englander' attitude. 'This has given English identity a slightly menacing face, and consequently has discouraged the celebration of Englishness,' he said. 'The English feel as though they can't talk about their identity for fear of association with the far right.

At times, it seems as though the flag of St George and the language of identity have been hijacked by these minorities.'

However, there has been a slight resurgence in English national pride in recent years, in tandem with Scottish and Welsh devolution. In 1992, 31% of people described themselves as English, rather than British, according to the British Social Attitudes survey; by 2003, this had risen to 40%.

The beer sector has taken on the mantle of reasserting this pride Brewer Charles Wells has been campaigning for greater recognition of St George's Day since 1998, under the banner of its Bombardier ale. It has generated substantial publicity by playing on the fact that magistrates refused to grant late licences to pubs for the day, despite having agreed to do so for St Patrick's Day.

Benefits of association

The furore has given a huge boost to sales of Bombardier, which have risen by 35% in each of the past three years, in a declining sector.

Within Charles Wells' network of 260 pubs, St George's Day is the third-biggest sales day after Mother's Day and St Patrick's Day. This year, the brewer has run a competition with The Daily Telegraph to win a party on the day.

Other beer brands have also spied wisdom in the association, especially in a World Cup year. Young's, which launched St George's Ale three years ago, will be selling the beer at a promotional price from this Sunday until the start of the World Cup, while Greene King is giving away flat caps decorated with the St George's cross in its pubs.

In other sectors, the Daily Express is running a competition in conjunction with website Fotothing, appealing to readers to send in pictures that sum up Englishness. And, in one of the most direct links to St George's Day, English Heritage has been running regional press ads to attract people to special events taking place at some of its 400 historic properties. …