The Brand Called UK

A member of the London Company of Friends group recently emailed me an article about Barbara Cassani, who’s working to bring the Olympics to England — and who “wants to overcome our natural British reserve and apathy.” Previously, Cassani helped launch — and sell — the low-cost airline Go, which was bought by EasyJet for a cool 374 million British pounds. Attracting the Olympics won’t happen without its challenges:

Now Cassani is directing her inspirational style of management at a less receptive audience, the residents of inner London. Enthusiasm for the Olympics has stalled in the capital over issues of how it will be funded, by whom, and to what long-term benefit. There is something delicious about the image of Cassani’s megawatt optimism colliding with the default scepticism of, say, the residents of Hackney, rather like picturing Annie in a film by Ingmar Bergman.

Cassani talks about how the Olympics will regenerate the East End and give kids something to strive for, which may well be true. But even if the substance of her argument is correct, she will never overcome a certain native impulse, when presented with this style of twee corporate evangelism, to rain all over it. Cassani sighs. “There’ll always be some people who are just sad. I mean, what are you gonna do? It’s OK, they can be sad. And I really don’t care. I just don’t want them telling me what to do. I’ll let them be sad, if they let me be the way I am.”

It’s an interesting question: How do you rebrand an entire country? Cassani should consider the late-’90s work of Geoff Mulgan. Even then, Mulgan was saying that you can’t reshape national realities without reinventing national identity — and that might be the biggest change challenge.