National Treasures and brands..

There was an interesting story on the radio this morning about the National Trust being up in arms about being featured in Alan Bennett’s latest play People in the National Theatre.  Brand management is tough enough without finding yourself pilloried as part of the arts scene and commented on by the chattering classes.  So they got Alan Bennett on to explain himself – introduced as a national treasure as of course is the National Trust – an organisation devoted to preserving the UK’s ancient landscapes and buildings. This story neatly encapsulates the dilemma for today’s brand manager – who is desperately keen to be relevant and to matter to the population at large but who wants to do it on their terms – or at least in terms that sell tickets, products, services and what have you. But you can’t be a national treasure and decide how and when you are used. Alan Bennett pointed out perfectly sensibly that it is rather striking that people walk around stately homes built and filled by the rich and celebrated of former times to gawp at what is in them. What are they looking for and what does that say about us? A perfectly reasonable question.  It is precisely because the NT is doing its job and attracting the crowds that it is a useful symbol of particular human traits like curiosity, envy and aspiration.  Otherwise Alan Bennett wouldn’t have put it into his play because no one would have understood the reference. This seems to me to be a basic dilemma for brands – they want to have social meanings but don’t like anyone else to use those social meanings. Unfortunately its too late for that. You can’t brag about having 73 thousand likes on Facebook and then complain if you are taken at your word as a cultural symbol. We can expect more of the same. So brand managers – don’t call a lawyer if it happens to you call your PR agency and continue the conversation.



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