John, Paul, George and Jingo

Bombardier – Drink of England ad by Kindred
When you think of Britain does a wave of images, sentimental, yet faintly militaristic, rush through your brain? Do soldiers, barrel-rolling Spitfires, smiling farmers and Eric Morecambe pass in tight formation before your mind’s eye? And tell me, these pictures, where did they come from? asks Gordon Comstock…

Bombardier – Drink of England ad by Kindred

When you think of Britain does a wave of images, sentimental, yet faintly militaristic, rush through your brain? Do soldiers, barrel-rolling Spitfires, smiling farmers and Eric Morecambe pass in tight formation before your mind’s eye? And tell me, these pictures, where did they come from? asks Gordon Comstock

Don’t worry I’m not recruiting for the BNP, I just have very neat hair for a copywriter. And if a man can’t don lederhosen and goose-step around a flaming cross in the privacy of his own home then what, I ask you, is this once great nation coming to?

Bombardier – Drink of England ad by Kindred

Sorry. I merely wish to demonstrate that if anyone is responsible for the manufacture of our national identity then, as creators of advertising, we are. We have within our power the one element of British culture that is, properly speaking, shared. I think we should be more careful with it.

A really good advertising idea should be surprising, simple and also true. The complex of denial and nostalgia that has grown up around the symbols of British nationalism mean that they have an effect not unlike that of a good idea. Nationalism has been strictly verboten for so long that it has become shocking.

Bombardier – Drink of England ad by Kindred

Yet its iconography is still instantly recog­nisable; it was designed to inspire respect in the illiterate, so nothing could be simpler. And because inside every Creative Review-reading, millennial Englishman is a vastly overweight football hooligan with the Union Jack painted on his stomach, dying to get out and chant racist abuse in your earhole, it feels true. In fact, because this shameful lodger has been so long denied, to see him reflected in the roaring face of Wayne Rooney, daubed in the blood of the French, feels like something of an affirmation.

And if a direct appeal to your inner chauvinist seems too unsubtle, too, well, American, there’s always irony. What, after all, could be more British than the absurd customs of heraldry, applied to punks and pearly kings. John Lydon in three-piece tweeds. The Union Jack in a palette by Paul Smith. Sarcasm makes jingoism sophisticated.

Detail from Nick Georghiou’s photograph of Wayne Rooney, taken for Nike St Wayne poster by Wieden + Kennedy, London

Everyone knows what Samuel Johnson said about patriotism. Personally, I reckon Boswell made that one up because what Johnson wrote was that a true patriot had “one single motive, the love of his country”. No second motive, notice, not the desire to sell football boots, a TV channel, oven chips, or bread. If the idea of a brand ‘caring about the environment’ is absurd, the idea of a brand caring about Britain is either a denial of that brand’s employees’ right to political self-determination, or an insulting lie.

If there was ever a time when advertisers could behave patriotically then it’s during a massive economic downturn. To quote Churchill, the country’s finest copywriter, “now we are the masters of our fate”. This is the chance we’ve been waiting for: to prove advertising’s worth by doing the one thing that it’s really meant to do – selling product. Or was that not what you meant when you said British advertising was the best in the world?

Gordon Comstock is an advert­ising copywriter based in London. He also writes the Not Voodoo blog at This article appears in the April issue of CR.

Bombardier – Drink of England credits:
Agency: Kindred
Client: Wells and Youngs
Writer: Mark Prime
Art director: Lee Hanson
Illustrator: David Lawrence
Exposure: National six-sheets

Nike St Wayne credits:
Agency: Wieden + Kennedy, London
Client: Nike
Art directors: Chris Groom, Stuart Harkness and Guy Featherstone
Copy writers: Chris Groom and Stuart Harkness
Creative directors: Tony Davidson and Kim Papworth
Photography: Nick Georghiou

  • I’m not sure if I agree with this article because, well, I’m not sure what the point of the article is? I do, however, think that Gordon should understand the differences between nationalism, pride in your nation and jingoism, and not forgo them for the sake of a snappy header.

  • geedee

    How do you pronounce Bombardier?




    Or none of the above?

  • Bom-bah-deer (I hope).

  • rodney


  • Giles

    Stumbled across an interesting article on Britain’s first brand, this morning.

  • Ed Wright – If you’d like to define the differences, please go ahead, I sense you might enjoy it.

  • Tofurky

    Ed & Gordon – “Fight fight fight”. Now that’s the British defined for you.

  • Apologies, I should know better than to get involved with differences in meaning on a blog. (And it would be patronising of me to resort to dictionary definitions . To paraphrase Johnson, “Wikipedia is the last refuge of someone who takes all the fun out of a debate”.)

    However, although I don’t that nationalism is either good or bad, the references you make to the BNP, hooliganism and chauvinism imply that the ‘symbols of British nationalism’ are akin to the Nazi swastika – something Mr Churchill might have issue with.

    I’m not a beer-swilling illiterate hooligan, and nor am I a middle-England good-ol’-blighty toff. But I think the assertion that Eric Morecombe, spitfires, red squirrels and Wayne Rooney are the acceptable face of some underlying, unsavoury brand of nationalism is ridiculous. And to say that advertising creators are responsible for a national identity is taking credit where credit is certainly not due.

    *Cue rousing chorus of Jerusalem and a pickled egg…*

  • Du vin, du pain, du Boursain, tout vas bien.

    Perhaps the only acceptable face of national flavoured advertising is in a foriegn market?

  • Ed Wright

    I’m afraid I’m insufficiently grown-up to let your comments go unanswered, and, as a previous commentator has pointed out, there’s nothing more British than pedantry.

    The symbols or British nationalism operate exactly like those of German national socialism. The only difference is the meaning attached to them. What Churchill might have thought of that is, to my mind, a surreal thought experiment too far. Unless you are a medium. In which case, please pass on my apologies to Winston.

    Advertising is our national culture. In a British classroom I think the number of children who know the words to Jerusalem or even know who William Blake is will be exactly 0 – they will all have seen Cadbury’s Gorilla though. If a culture is something we all hold in common, which is the culture?

    The difference between nationalism, pride in one’s nation and jingoism, as you no doubt discovered when you went to look it up, is only one of degree. I think, that this feeling (you know, the one stimulated by exposure to the symbols of nationalism), is a fairly uncivilised one – but that’s just me. So far as advertising goes, there is no difference, as the idea of a brand holding a position, psychological or political, on the subject is only an artificial construct designed to sell product. This is most obvious in say, the Nike Wayne Rooney poster, Nike being an American brand that makes football boots in Indonesia. It has no interest in Britain, only in stimulating its British consumers.

    British nationalism, in the hands of advertisers is only the cynical torture of a dying nerve. If individual advertisers, by which I mean advertising creatives, really care about Britain they’d be better off doing their duty by selling things. Manning the cannons rather than raising the flag, if you prefer.