The Premier League has brought out research on the global popularity of leading British brands. Alistair MacDonald, British Council Soft Power expert, takes a look at the findings.
This morning Populus and the Premier League have published the second edition of the British Icon Index. The Premier League topped the chart, performing especially well in East and South East Asia and Africa, taking pole position in countries like South Korea, Thailand, Kenya and Morocco. Rolls Royce took second, performing well in the USA, Russia and UAE, with Jaguar Land Rover in third place. In describing the results Rick Nye, the Principal Director of Populus noted:
The [Premier] League’s global appeal, its ability to engage people en masse regardless of their background, its reach within developing economies with growing middle classes, and its more rounded performance across the different measures, means it is Global Britain’s best advertisement.
Go to Jakarta where West Ham shirts flutter above market stalls or stop in a cafe in Havana and strike up a conversation with the locals about Liverpool
But the evidence isn’t just in the data. Go to Jakarta where West Ham shirts flutter above market stalls or stop in a cafe in Havana and strike up a conversation with the locals about Liverpool. The Premier League is a standout institution of British soft power. It provides an instant “in” - an opportunity to engage - with audiences around the world.
The Index highlights the essential role a country’s brands and cultural assets play in a state’s international attractiveness. This is as true of the UK as it is for the US (Apple, Coke, McDonalds), Japan (Nintendo, Toyota, Sony) and other leading global economies. But the report offers a second crucial insight; that every market is unique and the traction of different icons and brands varies both between and within different societies. That can be down to exposure, some territories may be of less of a priority to a particular company resulting in a lower public profile. In others, cultural, political and societal factors may come into play which can affect the reach or appeal of some brands. This may explain the BBC’s relatively poor performance in, for example, Saudi Arabia and Russia. As the authors note, while there are many places where the Premier League is particularly strong the picture is not uniform, there are also places where it has less resonance with respondents, i.e. Australia and the USA - essentially the places with their own distinctive traditions when it comes to football.
The Premier League conducted an online survey of 20,882 adults in 20 international markets, with at least 1,000 interviews in each market. Respondents were asked to rate each of 10 British institutions, brand and icons (Rolls-Royce, the Premier League, Jaguar Land Rover, British Universities, the BBC, British Airways, British Music, British Film, HSBC, the Monarchy) on 10 associations / measures (admired; successful; attracts people from around the world; trusted; globally recognised; exciting; makes you think better of the UK; modern; favourability; familiarity). Populus then conducted a Factor Analysis on the data to reprise its 2016 British Icon Index analysis.
Everyone will have their own take on the selection chosen for those 10 British institutions, brand and icons. It might be a personal favourite that’s been missed, or scepticism over the use of collective terms like British Music or British Film when individual brands/icons (the Beatles, David Bowie, Adele, James Bond, Harry Potter) in those groups have far greater recognition value.
Our own survey work of the G20 has found that, when asked an open question about the things they associate with the UK, it is often individual footballers (past and present) rather than the Premier League or the top tier clubs that respondents volunteer. For the record it is Gareth Bale, Ryan Giggs and David Beckham, though one wonders if, next time around, World Cup hero Harry Kane will be added to that list.
An icon in action
For sure the survey is not comparing like with like – how could it when the institutions, brands, and icons that make the UK are so very different – but it nevertheless provides valuable insights into Brand Britain. It certainly gives organisations working in the soft power space pause for thought on how best to engage the interest of international audiences. At the British Council, we have been working with HSBC, the BBC and other icons and institutions highlighted in the survey for many years. And we are immensely proud to have been working in partnership with the Premier League since 2007, drawing on the iconic power of the Premier League brand and the universal appeal of football to develop a brighter future for young people around the world. It is an example of how an iconic brand can add real value to the UK’s cultural relations work.
This research is a timely reminder both of the importance of icons, brands and institutions to the UK’s soft power but also the enduring, universal appeal of the beautiful game
The British Council and Premier League’s Premier Skills programme provides opportunities for coaches, referees and players to become better integrated into their local communities, to develop their skills for employability and raise their self-esteem. To date, 20,027 Premier Skills coaches and referees have reached more than 1.6 million children and young people in 29 countries. Premier Skills also engages and empowers women and girls at all levels of the programme, aiming for a participation rate of no less than 40%.The programme currently runs in 19 countries across Asia, Africa and the Americas, from Afghanistan to Zambia. The Premier Skills English website draws on the universal appeal of the game and the top names of British football to help learners develop their English skills.
This research is a timely reminder both of the importance of icons, brands and institutions to the UK’s soft power but also the enduring, universal appeal of the beautiful game.
Alistair MacDonald, Senior Policy Analyst, British Council