The Grocer: History of Brands, July 2012
It was a packet of Munchies – bought at Inverness railway station in 1963 – that began Robert Opie’s love affair with brands. Today, in London’s Museum of Brands, Packaging and Advertising in Notting Hill, his unique collection comprises over half a million items, telling the fascinating story of Britain’s colourful consumer past.
The museum showcases 200 years of brands, through the carefully preserved products themselves, and the advertising that supported and created them. Critically, it doesn’t simply put the brands on a pedestal – it displays them alongside toys, media, technology, travel, design and fashion, to convey British social history. “It’s not just about the stuff you throw away and it’s not just about brands. It’s about us,” says Opie. “This is not art you see in a gallery – it’s the art we see around us all the time, but never look at.”
For Opie, the museum, and his collection as a whole - only a fraction of which is on display – isn’t just catering to nostalgia or curiosity about the past. Because it fosters an understanding of how and why brands and society have changed, it has ongoing relevance. “Most people don’t think about the importance of the things they buy from the shop. They just chuck them away when empty,” he explains. “But these things don’t just tell us where we’ve been, they give us the ability to see where we’re going.”
It was his recognition that the role of FMCG was not being captured that fuelled the growth of Opie’s collection. “Here was a massive part of our society that wasn’t being recorded. It needed to be kept. I knew it would be of interest to the public. I just needed to prove it.”
An exhibition at the Victoria & Albert Museum in 1975 – The Pack Age – proved so popular the museum “closed its front doors for the first time in its history.” And in 1984, the collection went on permanent display in Gloucester. But it was too remote, and moved to its current London location in 2005. Its line-up of sponsors – Kellogg’s, Cadbury, Twinings, McVitie’s and Diageo – is confirmation of the importance of his mission.
“This is a massive industry. And it affects everybody,” he adds. “There is no more important part of our society than the consumer world.”
An article from The Grocer History of Brands ‘Throw away history?’ July 2012