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  • Six Cultural Contradictions in Twenty-First Century Ireland
  • John Fanning (bio)

The previous chapter described six possible directions for branding in the twenty-first century. The first and probably the most important is cultural branding, where marketing communications are based on cultural contradictions in the society in which the brand operates. A good example would be the widely discussed "cash rich, time poor" issue which is being experienced by significant sections of the population in many Western societies. A variety of brands, in particular food brands, have been positioned as potential solutions to this "contradiction."

Irish society has probably undergone more profound changes in the last decade than any in living memory and offers a rich source of potential material for resolving "cultural contradictions." A number of them are identified and outlined in this chapter.

Freedom vs. Restraint

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Figure 1.

Sexual intercourse, which famously began in Britain in 1963, took a little longer to reach Irish shores but by the 1990s both church and state had been forcibly ejected from a large number of Irish homes, prompting suggestions that it began in Ireland in 1993, although this ignored the famous outcry in the 1960s by a frustrated politician that there was "no sex in Ireland before The Late Late Show." One of the most dramatic illustrations of our changing sexual mores was the percentage of live births outside marriage, which in 1988 was well below the European average—12 percent compared to 18 percent—but by the end of the 1990s was marginally ahead, having more than doubled to 28 percent compared to the European average of 26 percent; and by 2005 the figure had reached 34 percent.1 The succession of sexual scandals involving senior clerical figures at the time weakened the authority of the once all-powerful Catholic Church and the revelations of financial impropriety and unambiguous corruption at senior levels of the political, civil service and business establishments put a further strain on all forms of authority in Irish society.

The sudden change from one of the most socially conservative societies in Europe to a much more liberated society was bound to create tensions. The most obvious fault-line was between young and old and on a wide range of issues the main divide in market research surveys carried out during the 1990s was not between urban and rural, or between the social classes but between the under-and over-forties. But to some extent everyone felt the pressure, because although the transformation of the economic fortunes of the country were largely progressive, they were accompanied by a breakdown in many of the traditional comfort blankets that had helped people to cope with the travails of the past. In this respect, Ireland in the 1990s started to experience the existential feelings of anomie, anxiety and alienation that had begun to characterize the condition of Western man since the mid-twentieth century:

To be modern is to find ourselves in an environment that promises us adventure, power, joy, growth, transformation of ourselves and the world, and at the same time, that threatens to destroy everything we have, everything we know, everything we are.2

There are, perhaps inevitably, signs of a backlash and as people try to come to terms with the pace of change they begin to wonder if the baby has been thrown out with the bathwater. Few people are prepared to question the desirability of the new Ireland, few people are under any illusions about the real nature of Irish society in the past, but a few heads are beginning to appear above the parapet, notably the Ombudswoman, Emily O'Reilly, who articulated the feelings of many in a widely reported speech at the Céifin annual conference in November 2004:

Why are we still whining? Why after that gargantuan transformation of public and private life in a direction that many of the country's most thoughtful and concerned citizens wished for, is there still an enormous disquiet about the nature of our Irish society and the sort of people we have become. It would be good if we recognized the new religions of sex and drink and...