A History of Branding | Is Branding Bad?

There are endless histories of advertising out there, focusing on very different general trends and turning points. This is just mine, focusing on the UK’s experience, following a trip to the enthralling Museum of Brands, Packaging and Advertising in Notting Hill.

Its written for those outside the industry, but may remind those of you within it of some important basics that too often get forgotten according to Dave Trott.

The simplest message about a brand is its identity, typically consisting of a name and an image – often a logo. Communication of this message has existed in some form for centuries. It can be traced back to the ancient Egyptian bricklayers who branded their bricks (Farquahar, 1989). However, it was with the advent of mass production and mass transport, in the middle of the 19th Century, that it became increasingly important for producers to differentiate their product from competitors. Brands replaced the trust that had existed in the personal relationship with one’s local salesman. Marketing was also important due to the influx of new inventions; in educating consumers of the benefits that they could offer.

Products were embossed with trademarks and advertising was created to relate these trademarks to the specific features of the product in an impactful, persuasive, and memorable way (Kirkpatric, 1994). This was facilitated by the advent of new printing technologies, the rise of literacy rates and consumer affluence (Branthwaite and Cooper, 1981).


Figure 1. This early advert demonstrates the use of a trademark as a signature of quality and consistency, or, “visible or materialized goodwill” (Foster 2008, p.79).

As the capitalist market matured, marketing tools proved essential to create economies of scale, and hence benefits of mass-produced products. “Advertising is an accelerator – it speeds up the acceptance of new products, thus encouraging the development of still more new products” (Kirkpatric, 1994, p.31). Hence, it could be thanked for its part in the process by which “the masses are given the opportunity to live far beyond the wildest fantasies of rich nobility of earlier years” (Boorstin, 1974, P.13).

With the turn of the 20th Century, the interaction of consumers and producers in the British market was changing dramatically. Advertisers found that the most effective way to boost sales was to form associations between the features of a product and icons or issues that were culturally significant at the time. For example, Hubert Booth’s Vacuum Cleaner Company positioned its product at the foreground of the dissolution of domestic servants in 1903.

Queen Elizabeth’s jubilee drove television sales and the launch of the first independent TV channel in 1955, funded by selling commercial space, marked a turning point in the advertising industry. The power of mass audience broadcasting accelerated the liberalisation of fashion and popular culture – the first to develop under the faultless scrutiny, and inevitable influence, of the advertising that proliferated it. The young population broke free to indulge in the shopping potential, through which they could express their rebellious cultural identity.









I suppose even the First World War was seen as a culturally significant opportunity for brand building in these Oxo ‘War Map’ and Bovril branded ’Handy Book & Diary of the War’.

Over time, big companies faced ever-growing competition from unbranded challengers, now able to cheaply produce similar quality products and compete on price. In response, by the mid-1980s, many management theorists proclaimed that marketing could play a larger role than in mere suggestive association, or as a mark of quality and differentiation (Aaker, 2000). Certain corporations realised that they could sell ideas or ‘lifestyles’ for a greater profit margin than they did their generic and reproducible products.

The relationship between the physical product and the brand dissolved.









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1.3 Branding today


“It’s a new brand world” (Peters, 1997).


Estimates of the number of marketing messages the average consumer is exposed to each day now range from 3,000[1] (Verna, 2006) to 6,000 (Jaffe, 2008). The growth of the marketing industries is explained by the fact that in developing brands, all corporations are locked in an arms race with their competitors. The ‘coke wars’ between Pepsi and Coca Cola lead to increased in advertising budgets from $25 million to $125 million and $34 million to  $181 million respectfully between 1975 to 1984 (Foley, 1994). As the media landscape became more heavily populated by advertising, brands found themselves competing for the consumers’ attention, not only with their direct rivals, but all other brands. Inherently, any increase in advertising creates more brands, which leads to increased competition, which cultivates demand for more advertising. Similarly, the growth in media – which has been largely funded by the growth in advertising – has also led to more advertising. This is because it has forced advertisers to increase their exposure to overcome the fragmentation of media consumption (Rust and Oliver, 1994). In 1965, a P&G product manager could reach 80% of eighteen to forty nine year-olds with just three 60-second commercials. By the 1980s, the same task would have required ninety-seven prime-time commercials (Aaker 2000). As competition intensified and communication channels diverged, client expectations rose and the marketing companies were forced to look for more diverse, bold and complex ways to gain our attention. In response, a ‘science’ of advertising has developed with marketers spending billions of pounds each year in the pursuit of ‘insights’. Advertising research involves extensive cognitive and evolutionary psychology in comparing the effect of various attention grabbing or emotive techniques.

[1] Studies undertaken by the Media Awareness Network (2010) in NextStep Marketing article – http://www.nextstepmarketing.com.au/articles/advertising/does-advertising-shape-or-mirror-society/