The word brand comes from brandir, an old norse word meaning “to burn”. It refers to the practice of producers burning their mark (or brand) onto their products to make them stand out from other suppliers.
Cattle & Livestock have been branded since Egyptian times. The name stuck in the middle ages as a way of identifying livestock ownership.
Brands in mass-marketing
Brands in mass-marketing originated in the 19th century with the advent of packaged goods. Industrialization moved the production of many household items, like soap, from local communities to centralized factories. When shipping their items, the factories would literally brand their logo or insignia on the barrels used, extending the meaning of “brand” to that of trademark. A tradition you still see today in the drink and cigar trade.
That’s when advertising and competition began to really affect business. People confronted by a variety of different manufacturers could only guess which one to choose. They would often choose by how they looked, as that was as good as any other way. This presentation would soon help the product to grow a reputation, and this became known as a brand.
Bass & Company, the British brewery, claims their red triangle brand was the world’s first trademark. Lyle’s Golden Syrup also makes a similar claim, having been named as Britain’s oldest brand, with its green and gold packaging having remained almost unchanged since 1885.
The industrial revolution
Factories established during the Industrial Revolution introduced mass-produced goods. This led to companies selling their products to a wider market and to customers previously familiar only with locally-produced goods.
It quickly became apparent that a generic package of soap had difficulty competing with familiar, local products. The packaged goods manufacturers needed to convince the market that the public could place just as much trust in the non-local product.
Products like Campbell soup, Coca-Cola, Juicy Fruit gum and Quaker Oats were among the first products to be ‘branded’, in an effort to increase the consumer’s familiarity with their products.
Moving on from simple logos and adverts, companies soon adopted slogans, mascots, and jingles that began to appear on radio and early television. By the 1940s,manufacturers began to recognize the way in which consumers were developing relationships with their brands in a social & psychological sense.
From there, manufacturers quickly learned to build their brand’s identity and personality like youthfulness, fun or luxury. This began the practice we now know as “branding” today, where the consumers buy “the brand” instead of the product.
This trend continued to the 1980s, and is now quantified in concepts such as brand value and brand equity. Naomi Klein has described this development as “brand equity mania“ in her book “No Logo”. In 1988, for example, Philip Morris purchased Kraft for six times what the company was worth on paper; it was felt that what they really purchased was its brand name.
The highest level of achievement in the world of branding is to create a brand that is instantly recognizable even without the name of the company present. This takes years of marketing and huge amounts of investment.
Brands came about as a way to identity companies’ products from similar products by rival businesses, but of course branding could also be used to disguise an inferior product as one of higher quality. A successful brand identity is easily recognisable and creates an instant association with a product or service.
A great example of this is Starbucks. Nowadays it’s far less associated with the smell and taste of coffee than with the interior design of it’s café, related services and its iconic green and white logo. For its brand advocates, Starbucks has become a lifestyle choice that reflects what they want people to think about them, not just a cup of coffee.