Selling Britishness: Commodity Culture, the Dominions, and Empire
Winner — BAC Wadsworth Prize for Business History 2023
How advertisers between the wars constructed a shared British identity in Australia, Canada and New Zealand.
From the 1920s until the Second World War, Australia, Canada and New Zealand filled British shop windows, newspapers and cinema screens with ‘British to the core’ Canadian apples, ‘British to the backbone’ New Zealand lamb, and ‘All British’ Australian butter. And as they sold apples and butter, these campaigns also sold a Dominion-styled British identity.
Selling Britishness explores the role of commodity marketing in creating ‘Britishness’. Dominion settlers considered themselves British and marketed their commodities accordingly. Meanwhile, ambitious Dominion advertising agencies set up shop in London to bring British goods, like Ovaltine, back to the dominions and persuade their own citizens to ‘Buy British’. Throughout, advertisers employed imperial hierarchies of race, class and gender. Consumption worked to bolster colonialism and advertising extended imperial power into the everyday.
Rather than Australians, Canadians and New Zealanders shaking off Britishness in favour of new national identities, Selling Britishness shows how marketers and advertisers helped produce a new shared British identity in the dominions during advertising’s golden age.
Felicity Barnes is a senior lecturer in history at Waipapa Taumata Rau, the University of Auckland. She is the author of numerous journal articles and New Zealand’s London: A Colony and its Metropolis (Auckland University Press, 2012).