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The past as a path to the future

February 4, 2011


It’s an interesting moment when people start looking
backwards instead of forwards.

This could define where we are now and might have been
for a while.

Is it because of the security and comfort that we find in
the past, or the fact that the constant we’ve become numbed by the constant
bombardment of the new in real-time?

Maybe, it’s because what’s being offered as “new”, isn’t
really that interesting.

As I write, Heston Blumenthal’s (famous chef) new London restaurant, Dinner, is the talk of the town.

Instead of using his trademarked, futuristic, science-based
approach to carve out new territory in the world of food, he’s reached back
into the past and re-created it for today.

British food has long been the
standing joke of global cuisine and by going backwards he’s re-framing that
conversation in a new entirely way.

The guys over at Canteen, a small London restaurant chain, have
been doing something similar for the past few years.

They’ve gone back and found the
soul of British food and found a way to do it with care and attention. Like
Blumenthal, they appear only too aware of the terrible reputation of British
food and are determined to repair its image. More than that, Canteen is a
strong brand with a clear sense of itself and a determination to celebrate the
best of Britishness, by doing much more than just leveraging nostalgia.

We are at a time when the “new” is constantly being rammed
down our throats and lack of newness, or as some people term, innovation, is
scorned upon as being “out of touch.

Maybe there’s got to be some value in
going backwards and learning from the past.

Perhaps before we all rush forward, taking a few steps back
might make sense.

When we are faced with challenges for the brands we have or
work with, shouldn’t we begin by asking ourselves a few questions?

What was the core promise of the brand at its

How did that promise manifest itself?

What cultural truth informed it?

Is the original promise relevant today?

Does that promise fit into the context of
contemporary culture?

How might you update the promise to be relevant?

Instead of rushing forward, believing that by adding some
shiny new object to the brand we are going to make it relevant again, what can we
learn from its past that can help inform its future?

Posted by Ed Cotton

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