Brand: History Lesson 1

After writing a couple of posts about brand, I thought it would be interesting to explore where the concept of ‘brand’ originated. I am going to split this into a few, easy to digest posts, with this first post being ‘Brand: History Lesson 1’.

So, where does the term ‘brand’ actually come from? The word ‘brand’ is derived from ‘brandr’, an Old Norse term meaning ‘to burn’. Belongings such as cattle, timber, crockery and even slaves were ‘branded’ with a symbol using a hot iron rod to demonstrate ownership. This antagonistic use of branding, which dates back to 2000BC, started to change around the 1800s into a more commercial activity where items were instead branded to differentiate and promote goods and services.


AD 190-1700s 
With the fall of the Roman Empire, craftsmanship deteriorated and people were mostly illiterate. This resulted in town criers being used to spread information and later on, when things improved, paid to advertise goods. Hand-lettered adverts and signs were hung to show different types of businesses (such as a shoe for a shoemaker). The first ad in a newspaper was seen in 1625, in England. By the 1700s, the Government introduced patents, trademarks and copyright laws in order to encourage development and innovation. Trademarks acted not only as a way to identify products, but also to show their origin and therefore, quality.


The Industrial Revolution (mid 1700s in England), saw the start of mass production. This meant that goods could be produced in a much more cost-effective way. Advertising agencies started in the late 1800s as a means to coming up with original ways of promoting goods and reaching audiences, stimulating demand. This all introduced and highlighted the importance of visual identity and trademarks. Tobacco companies were amongst the first to use unique labels and packaging to attract attention.
Screen Shot 2015-03-31 at 23.04.12It’s interesting that the Government is now looking at removing branding from cigarette packaging altogether. This is something which has already been put into effect in Australia in attempts to make cigarettes appear less appealing.


By the 1940s, there was a lot more competition between companies to get their products noticed and this is when the concept of the USP came in. The 1950s saw the rise of characters being used as the face of a brand. An example of this is the ‘Malboro Man’. The Philip Morris Cigarette Company was really struggling to sell their brand of cigarettes aimed at women when they came across an article in a magazine written about an ordinary cowboy, Clarence Hailey Long. They decided to use the cowboy as the face of their brand and to instead, aim the product at men. Their sales increased by 300%. Unfortunately, after the excitement of going from a shy cowboy to a celebrity, Clarence died of cancer.

Screen Shot 2015-03-30 at 15.20.24Brand names started to become more of an importance in the 1960s, where the usual idea of using the founder’s name or product’s origin was replaced with having more fun and playful names, sometimes deceiving the public. In America, it was thought that the Danes produced the best dairy products. This gave two Polish men from New York the idea to invent the word ‘Häagen-Dazs’, aiming to mislead people into thinking that their dairy products were actually from Denmark!

In the 1960s the concept of a product being less of a product and more of a status symbol were seen by the likes of Harley Davidson and Mercedes. Things all got a bit out of hand when the idea of false advertising became apparent to society. Brands started to lose their audience’s trust and some were forced to rebrand. For example, McDonalds had to look at a redesign using tones of green and yellow in order to portray them as part of a healthy lifestyle and not as an unhealthy fast food restaurant.

As you know, McDonalds is now a very established brand. I will be exploring this and other brands in my next post, which will explore the more recent history of brand.

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