Opinions - Brand GB. As seen from USA


by John Fountain

*I was in the US during the entirety of the Olympic Games. As I wasn't able to secure any tickets to any of the events I couldn't see any particular reason for sticking around.

So me and my mob headed in the opposite direction to everyone else and watched the London Olympics from New York, Arizona, Nevada, California and Massachusetts.

Watching London from afar is a fascinating experience, but I didn't realise just how captivating it would be sitting back and watching the games through the eyes of NBC. First of all they really do think we Brits are a wacky bunch. That opening ceremony skit with Liz Windsor jumping out of a helicopter was met with utter disbelief. That we even considered bringing humour to such a prestigious event was high risk, but to use our Queen in such a way confused the hell of your typical bored American.

And Americans did find it boring. They didn't want a history lesson. They didn't want to know about the NHS or Mary Poppins. What they really wanted was to see The Royal Family in all their glory - and what we gave them was not quite what they expected. For that alone, it was a masterstroke. The next day on the radio I heard countless phone-in shows asking listeners "Did you understand any of it?"

From that moment on, NBC decided that Brand GB was something that needed some explaining and the first person they called in to help join the dots was Jamie Oliver. What a top bloke he is. While preparing a pasta with a couple of 12-year old Londoners, or knocking up an Eton Mess, or a Pimms Lemonade, Jamie extolled the virtues of London with so much passion and energy that it quite touched the heart.

Over the days ahead more and more Brits took to the NBC's Today Live stage but unfortunately, none of the others matched Jamie. Katherine Jenkins, Cat Deeley, Tracy Ullman, Kelly Osbourne and former Blue Peter presenter Tim Vincent all appeared with good humour and immaculate teeth, but in truth I remember little of what they said.

I did notice a few brave American advertisers were also dipping their toes into the GB brand. Geico ran a series of ads featuring a British Gecko lizard - even though the UK doesn't have any. And Chevrolet ran a spot that showed passengers in a Malibu singing along to "True" by Spandau Ballet. A surprising choice given the American actors couldn't pronounce "Spandau," or indeed "Ballet."

But where brand GB scores in the US, (and let me tell you we score big in the US,) is when it comes to our heritage, our Royal Family and most of all - our Downton Abbey. Downton is friggin huge. Apparently the season two finale won US broadcaster PBS its biggest audience in almost three years a 25% increase on season one. It's so big that American Downton fans have been organising Sunday night viewing parties, and news that Oscar-winning American actress Shirley MacLaine is to join the show for its third season has only added to the sense of excitement.

There's no doubt the way we staged the London 2012 games has changed the way Americans think about brand GB - as a place of innovation, humour, self-deprecation and an endearing kind of wackiness. But after all of that, it's an imaginary place called North Riding, just outside of Oxford, that has really captured the hearts of America.

So when next weeks Paralympics starts, how about we have the time keepers dressed as circa 1910 skullery maids. Or line judges appear as butlers. Dunno, just saying maybe someone should bare that in mind.

John Fountain is a copywriter.

Visit John Fountain's website
Twitter: @fountainjohn


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