Good evening to those who remain and still read this blog,
Today’s post will be quite short, unlike the previous ones. Today, ladies and gentlemen, I invite you to some bit of reflection. To support my (our) reflection, I will use two examples, of a very different kind. Since I got my job in this very famous luxury retailer, I have been thinking quite a lot about the concept of Englishness.
I was about to simply write a paragraph about it in my dissertation, but today another situation triggered my reflection, which leads us to this post. Today, I surprised my boyfriend and took him to Warner Bross Studios in London for his birthday. This is actually the making of Harry Potter. It was really nice and we had great fun. Now, regarding the choice of actors, a producer explained: “we only wanted British actors for this movie, we decided no American actor should be included, because obviously, this movie is very British”.
Is it really? That first made me smile, but then made me think quite a lot. How British is Harry Potter? He lives in Surrey, and takes the train at King’s Cross, ok. He goes to school in an old school Castle that only Oxford could compete with, fair enough. But what about the rest? I thought it this say was especially funny, because first of all, Warner Bross is not British. You might be interested to know that the Warner brothers were actually Polish jews from Russia, who emigrated to Maryland. Whooohoo! Englishness? I can’t see you!
Plus, Warner Bross is not really directed to a British audience, but more to a worldwide audience, with blockbusters movies. So the idea of Englishness can be understood, when they say the actors need to be British (we can think of the British accent especially). But how English is this “very English” movie? Not that much if you ask me. A movie made by Americans for Americans, or at least in an acultural way.
My second example is, as I referred to earlier, my workplace. Icon of British luxury, actually icon of luxury itself, this store can be seen anywhere. In most airports, you can see its ads. And indeed, unlike Warner Bross, this store is historically very English. Named after its very first owner, it first opened in 1849 (oh yeah, old stuff), as a tiny tea shop. The funny thing is, the store is the largest retailer in Europe, but in one of the huge rooms, you can still see the tiny ceiling that used to be the ceiling of the tea shop. I love this workplace. I had the occasion to work in many very nice places, such as the Negresco Hotel in Nice, which was already 100 year old, but this is something completely else. This place is full of History, of beauty, and many people see it as an attraction rather than a shop. Despite this full time job being hard for me, I can’t help but being proud when I enter this place. Every morning I think “yeah, it is stunning, and this is where I work”. I love the fact that it used to be so small. I love the fact that while going to lunch, I bumped randomly into Penelope Cruz who was looking for the toy department. I love the fact that people want to take pictures with me, because I am this store. I am part of it, and for that, I feel like I am part of what England probably cherishes the most: English essence.
But enough talking about how much I love this place, there is a question I still ask myself everyday: How English is it today? It is said to be “quintessentially British”, and it actually wants to be seen that way. Fair enough, when one carries so much History. But today, the store is actually owned by Qatar. On certain floors, you can find a department about Qatari products and essence. And before, it was owned by an Egyptian family. So now, there is a massive (but nonetheless breathtaking) Egyptian escalator worth 20 million pounds. Each year, the store celebrates the Chinese New Year. How English is that? During a certain period of time, the store opens later to allow Arabic customers to come later. How English is that?
I understand there is the business aspect of course, and I am the first to tell you that I do believe in target adaptation more than anything else in the world. But how intelligent is the marketing, to let you believe this store is still British? Actually, very few employees are British themselves.
Ok, this post was not at short as planned, but it leaves you guys with my vision of Englishness and how marketing re-creates it. Marketing is a powerful tool, isn’t it?