Mel Arrow

brands in britain 2024

brands in britain 2024: time for heroes

Brands can step up and provide leadership where political institutions have been found wanting, says McCann London's chief strategy officer

By Mel Arrow

I recently watched the Louis Theroux interview with Pete Doherty and the next day I found myself listening to The Libertines on my commute.

By the weekend, I was raucously singing ‘Up The Bracket’ at a friend’s birthday party. I was worried where it would end… I’d been transported to a teenage time when I was obsessed, not just with the music, but the band’s romantic vision of Arcadia in Britain. Not the long-demised retail conglomerate, but a poetic concept of utopia.

When Louis asks Pete what the motivation behind The Libertines was, he replies: “this crackpot vision of England…I was subsumed by the poetry and history of Britain”. It seems a little daft in the cold light of 2024, but searching for Arcadia was fun for a time. It’s certainly a far cry from Britain today.

McCann has been monitoring the national mood for over 15 years, so I can say with some confidence that today’s Britain is a place where people feel angry, uncertain, disappointed, and confused. National pride is down, so is pride in national institutions (except the beloved NHS), and trust in all news sources is in decline too.

Economic and political factors are the biggest sources of anger, with the cost-of-living crisis topping the list. So, what are British brands to do? To answer this, I think we need to apply a little Arcadian logic. Because as The Libertines would say, now is the time for heroes. Now is the time for brands to be more choiceful and more helpful than ever. Now is the time for brands to be investors, entertainers, and leaders. And here’s why.

British pride isn’t dead, it’s contextual. Treating pride as a monolith in Britain today is foolish. At a national level, pride is plummeting, but pride exists in contextual pockets. In homes, communities, sporting successes and entertainment. It’s clear from the data, that the Britain of 2024 is built on a new set of values: hard work, family, freedom, and a sense of humour. Be the brand that reflects, supports, and genuinely invests in these values and you could reap the rewards. Now is the time for investors.

British confidence is more individual than it is collective. Ask Brits to describe the country’s mood and attitude and it’s generally negative, but ask them to describe their own, and it’s often a bit (or a lot) more optimistic. It’s a very British trait to ‘back yourself’, and we’ve seen this in action in numerous focus groups of late. Brands can reflect that confidence, by simply making people feel good about themselves. Positive escapism and entertainment are going to be vital roles for brands to play in 2024, with one in three Brits saying that the number one thing brands can do for them is to make them laugh (Truth Central, 2023). Now is the time for entertainers.

Britain has lost its swagger, but it wants it back. We asked a thousand Brits “do you think this country needs more ‘get up and go’ energy?” and 87 per cent agree (Truth Central, 2023). Brands have the capacity to plug holes that political institutions leave behind. Yes, consumers want reliability and reassurance in tumultuous times, but they also want to be led towards better. Brands could provide the enlivening leadership they crave and aren’t getting elsewhere. Now is the time for leaders.

Brands can look at 2024 with doom and gloom or with a little Arcadian logic. We need brands to think expansively about their role in society, consider what they can be to people, rather than what they have been in the past. Or as The Libertines would put it, as we enter 2024, don’t look back into the sun.

Mel Arrow is chief strategy officer at McCann London


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