How home-grown brands, industries and institutions support the story of modern Britain

No one following the movements of David Cameron and George Osborne in recent weeks could deny that they are making good on their promise to put a focus on international markets at the heart of their long-term economic plan. The message, loud and clear, is that the UK is open for business.

Critical to the success of that headline message is the ability to sell the story of the UK as an open, outward-looking country that has the skills and expertise to embrace the future. For this, the UK needs not just advocates but examples, businesses and organisations that epitomise what UK plc is about. But which of our home-grown brands, industries and institutions best carries our global story? As they are sold, marketed and projected around the world, which British icons do most to promote the values we would like to put on display? Populus determined to find out.

We interviewed 4000 people in eight markets around the world ranging from established economies (the United States) through rising powerhouses (India and China) to emerging nations (Nigeria and Indonesia) and asked them to score 15 British icons (from British universities and British film to Rolls Royce, British Airways and the Premier League) against a range of measures from being admired and trusted to being successful and globally recognised. We then analysed the results, some 60,000 data points in total, to find the “X factor” – that hidden attribute which came closest to combining all of the positive qualities we had tested. How much of this “X factor” each icon has is what determines its place in our British Icon Index league table.

The good news for the UK is that many of its most cherished institutions and famous brands travel well: every icon in the top ten achieved a score of at least 70.0 out of 100, and no icon achieved a score of less than 55.0. Certain icons – British universities and brands with global marketing budgets like Rolls Royce and Jaguar Land Rover – perform especially well across the markets surveyed. However, top of the table is the Premier League with a score of 81.0, making it consistently the best performer of the 15 brands, industries and institutions:


What distinguishes the performance of the Premier League is the breadth of its appeal: it is top among men, second among women, and in the top two for every age group up to 55. In particular, the Premier League is able to reach and engage a younger, more affluent global audience than any of the other icons tested.

This favourable impression of the Premier League positively influences views towards the UK: 84% of those polled across all the markets say that the Premier League makes them feel more positive towards the UK; only British universities (88%) have a stronger impact. The effect is even greater among young affluent people, 90% of whom say the Premier League has a favourable impact on their attitudes towards the UK.

The Premier League’s impact is also consistent across all the markets in which we polled: it is in the top five positively influential icons in every market except the USA, and the impact is especially strong in emerging nations where the Premier League has a significant presence: 97% in Nigeria and 92% in Indonesia.

Furthermore, while the Premier League makes people more positive towards the UK, you don’t have to like the UK to like the Premier League: the Premier League’s high Icon Index score is not dependent on people’s general views about the UK as a country. As a result, the Premier League is able to ‘pull’ people towards the UK:

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Our research shows that of the many effective advertisements the UK has for what it wants to say about itself – modern, successful, exciting, open, inclusive – the Premier League is the strongest, and of the many things which the UK produces it is Premier League football that is most likely to get through to the next generation of global leaders. No wonder David Cameron was only too happy to pose for a selfie with Sergio Aguero and President Xi of China.

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