Why do you think people are so fascinated by brands?
By Edwardian times you come across many brands like Perrier, Schweppes, Liptons, Marmite and Cadbury that are already in the shops, so when visitors come to the Museum they discover this and are familiar with them depending. Even visitors from America, Brazil or Europe will recognize these global names.
Many ‘brands’ are actually those of the original manufacturers while Marmite and Bovril are brand names; Cadbury, Rowntrees and Birds are manufacturers’ names, because named after the people who actually founded the factories. Interesting difference — you do not have to make up a name, you are born with it.
As you go through the Museum, you engage more and more with these brands. Visitors come out from that experience with different standpoints. One is they never realized how far these brands go back — they get to the 1930’s and see Kit Kat, Rolo, Milky Way, Mars bar and thought they arrived in the 1960’s or when they first engaged with them and it comes as a surprise, even horrified, that such treats were being bought by their grandparents.
They also appreciate how much brands mean to them. This is what brands do, they engage with you, and want to be your friend. If they are your friends, you buy them and they give you the comfort we all want. You vote for your brands every week by buying them. And if you don’t buy them, then those brands disappear, which happens constantly.
What has influenced brands staying power over the years?
If you go to the Museum, you will see more brands that have disappeared than have survived – like Mazawattee tea. You can go out today and find thousands of brands, but if you go and think of how many brands have disappeared, its hundreds of thousands. If you look at a market sector like chocolate, manufacturers keep re-inventing a piece of chocolate to make it more innovative and exciting — especially in the 60’s, they tried endlessly … most have gone by the wayside because the ones that we like and are familiar with and engage with are those which are handed down through each generation. Kit Kats and Mars bar are major brands you believe would never disappear, but that is what happened to Mazawattee tea and they were once brand leader and let the brand slip.
During the 1950’s and 1960’s brands needed to update for the new supermarkets. The self service store was becoming part of everyday shopping; therefore brands had to create a greater visibility, because instead of the grocer filling up your basket, you had to do it yourself. So to find your brand, you had to look for it … where did it go? If it wasn’t a bright and bold brand, you don’t see it. It didn’t shout from the shelves. A product like Typhoo tea in the 50’s had a long term strategy of changing the colour from grey to red. So over a period of twenty years, they evolved it with lots of little steps. Slowly the grey leaves were dropped to display the red background. Behind this grey barrier there was a warm red colour. Obviously it has gone beyond that now, and continues to change and update. What you don’t do is change the packaging too quickly, otherwise you lose that all important visual connection.
So this is a fundamental part of keeping it fresh…not making it look so outrageously different to lose that connection. When Woodbine cigarette sales were dropping in the 50’s, they changed the pack. Brand leader for decades, they kept a little bit of the original design and reduced the size of the image and then changed the design quite radically. When they changed the design they had thousands of letters complaining that they had changed the blend of the tobacco! If you think the taste is different, the brand is no longer the same, and the essential bond with the consumer is lost.
Brands that have been successful have something about them: good taste, perform correctly, look good… Anchor butter tastes nicely, spreadable, keeps up with the latest things through innovation. When spreadable soft butters came in they had to create and keep up to date with the latest thing otherwise they’d lose their market and become fuddy duddy.
But you can survive being fuddy duddy — for example, Golden Syrup still in its original container since 1885. Your biggest asset is not just your product, but the tin it comes in. The public have a bond with this brand, they have it in their cupboard and it reminds them of their childhood. Reminds them of that friendship and that is hugely important. Keeping the brand consistent and yet up-to-date is not always easy.
Kellogg’s have understood this well. When people walk around the Museum and look at the Kellogg’s cornflakes pack in the early 60’s, they spot Cornelius (the rooster) who arrived in 1963 becoming a landmark image, and those who remember it from the 1960’s feel inherently that it is “the same” today. In fact the pack has changed ten times since then. Kellogg’s has always understood the importance of connecting values and continues to be a great brand.
Have any brands taken a wrong direction…yet survived?
Companies tend not to think long term. Marketers change and want to make their mark in the two or three years they are in a job. Take a brand like Black Magic; it was launched in 1933 at the height of the deco era. It remained in the same design until 1970. Everyone bought it - what they were investing in was the pack and its content, shape, texture. Then one day they decided, when the sales where dropping a bit, we need to revamp and rejuvenate, and brought in a young team of whiz kids who didn’t know the history of the brand. They made too many changes — essentially they created a new product. Within days of its launch, there are complaints on social networking sites and thousands of letters of complaint, which is unheard of.
What this young vibrant team failed to realize was that their core customers were not young people. They may have aspired for the product being bought by the next generation, but in reality the mass market was still the older market; people who had been buying it for generations. Husbands traditionally gave it to their wives every birthday or at Christmas. Suddenly Black Magic wasn’t their friend anymore. They disengaged with it and lost its bond, friendship. Not only had they changed the packaging, its shape and its visibility, when you went into the supermarket and saw it, it looked like a black hole. And just to make sure that they were going to make this brand disappear…when you opened up the box, they made all the chocolates look the same. So no sense of excitement, no tactile feeling about each one; when you want an assortment of chocolate, you want an assortment. You don’t want them to look all the same. And to make matters worse, they put everything through the mincer, no longer could you find a nice bit of cherry or nut.
Having realized their error, Nestle went back to something similar to how Black Magic used to be in the 1960’s. They realised their mistake and fixed it. Quite a few brands have done this over their history.
For more information on the Museum of Brands, Packaging and Advertising please click here