Prior to the launch of mass manufacturer-branded goods, people bought commodity goods from their local retailer and it was the online business that represents the brand. It was the retailer’s reputation for quality and innovation that determined whether and what people bought. An early twentieth-century advertisement for a Dublin retailer, Humphreys of Ranelagh, who are still operating as a licensed premises, shows a range of different teas, all sold under the retailer’s name, which makes the modem multiples’ own-label strategies seem a little less revolutionary.
In a world of modern communications where people can live and work almost anywhere a city needs to develop its brand image to reflect its culture and vibe.
Politicians, always attracted to anything that would make them more electable, were eager to climb aboard and they too began to research their brand image, thus annoying the press who felt that their traditional right to be the sole interpreters of the public pulse and political popularity was being usurped by brand consultants and market research. In the process they managed some initial revenge by trying to discredit the ubiquitous “focus groups”.
Eventually, in America (inevitably) the concept of branding was applied to individual people, who were advised that they themselves could be regarded and therefore managed as brands and so another series of ephemeral, badly written personal self-help books began to litter the bookshops:
In today’s world you’re distinct — or extinct, I win, thrive, triumph by becoming — Brand You! The fundamental unit in today’s economy is the individual, a.k.a. You! Jobs are performed by temporary networks that disband when the project is done. So to succeed you have to think of yourself as a freelance contractor, Brand You!
The revolution was now complete. Branding had conquered the world. However, in spite of the millions of column inches, countless academic papers and bucket loads of books, the concept remained elusive and it was obvious that many people who spoke confidently about the subject were not always sure what they were talking about. Those who considered it carefully found it more difficult to clarify and define than it appeared on the surface. In order to come to a better understanding of brands and branding it is necessary to consider the origins of the concept.
The Origins of Brands and Branding
From the beginning of time people have mentally formed bundles of impressions, associations and images of other people, places and, inevitably, goods of all kinds. In today’s commercial language these “bundles” would be referred to as “brand images”. The first direct mentions of branding occur in the nineteenth century when commercially traded packaged goods were introduced, but conscious attempts to create favourable impressions and to be aware of the importance of one’s reputation in securing future business date from much earlier, at least since the Middle Ages.
Brands therefore first and foremost have always represented a guarantee of quality. Trust, reputation and integrity were always important attributes and from the beginning people who made goods of all kinds and who took a pride in the quality of their products went to considerable lengths to safeguard their reputation and their good name in order to protect the future of their business.
The guarantee of quality has become even more important in modern times. The modern history of branding began in the second half of the nineteenth century when developments in transportation, especially the growth of the railways in Britain and the US, enabled the distribution of consumer goods from the new manufacturing plants to a mass audience for the first time. Goods had always been traded, mainly by sea but in much smaller quantities than we now take for granted. The early civilisations of Egypt and Mesopotamia grew out of the trade routes along the Nile, the Tigris and the Euphrates rivers. But rail revolutionised trade, so much so that an extraordinary number of household brand names date from the mid- to late nineteenth century. Joseph Campbell began making his condensed soup in i860; Henry Heinz started his ketchup company in 1871; and William Colgate founded his toothpaste company in 1873. William Wrigley started making soap in 1891 and gave away free chewing gum with every bar, only to discover that the free offer was more popular than the soap, so he quickly changed business. The most famous brand of all, Coca Cola, was founded in 1892; the magnificently named King Camp Gillette started making safety razors in 1901; and William Kellogg set up his Battle Creek Toasted Cornflake Company in 1906.
In Ireland, where brewing and distilling were one of the few large-scale manufacturing industries, many of the famous brand names that are still thriving today date back to the eighteenth century or earlier: Smithwick’s in 1710, Guinness in 1759, Jameson in 1780, Power’s in 1791 and of course not forgetting the oldest distillery in the world, Bushmills, which was founded in 1608.
A critical characteristic of the early manufacturing pioneers was a fierce pride in their products and an obsession with quality. They were acutely aware of the fact that, unlike their manufacturing predecessors who could only distribute locally and were therefore known to most of their customers, they knew very few of their customers personally and were extremely anxious to tell them about their products and reassure them about their quality. Luckily, another new technological revolution was on the way — mass circulation newspapers — which were all too eager to facilitate the manufacturers in communicating with their customers.