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The History of Brand Advertising

While branding is and always has been an essential part of building any successful business, standing out from the crowd is harder than ever with all the new outlets and avenues available to reach customers, prospects, and fans of the brand.

From a design standpoint, branding is about discipline and consistency. The most successful brands are those we can instantly recognize just by seeing their logo or product icon.  We instantly recognize these companies and their associated products because we grew up with them or see representations of the brand everywhere we look. Often, that seemingly personal connection gives the more familiar brands the edge when buyers consider their options. In that decision-making consumer moment – price vs. brand – every penny spent on branding yields the desired ROI for a company.

While the concept of branding dates back to the 1500s as a method of identifying ownership, such as in the branding of cattle, it was the Industrial Revolution and the advent of the mass production of goods that led to consumer competition and the need to differentiate one company and its goods from another.

Registered trademarks (a trademark consists of words, phrases, symbols, designs, shapes, and colors legally registered or established by use as representing a company or product) rose to prominence in the 1870s. This was the first instance of branding as intellectual property, giving companies a way to officially claim their products as their own and combat copycats and rivals.

The dawn of the 20th century saw the rise of several iconic companies that would eventually become leading brands around the world. Colgate (1873), Coca-Cola (introduced in 1886), Kellogg’s (1900), J.C. Penney (1902), and Ford Motor Company (1903) were all first-of-their-kind pioneers, trend-setters, and brand-builders. These and other companies born in this era built their brands by offering new and inventive products. Many of these products and their uses were unknown to the modern consumer. Advertising in magazines and newspapers helped pave the way by stimulating market interest.

Print ads in the first few decades of the 20th century tended to be informational in nature – copy heavy descriptions of how a product worked and what it was used for. Illustrations helped to create a visual reinforcement that made the product recognizable in their packaging on store shelves. With so many new and unknown products flooding the market in these early-20th century decades, consumers were intimidated or leery to waste money on something they didn’t know or think they needed. This educational approach to advertising allowed these first-to-market companies to establish a relationship and trust with consumers early on. Generations since have grown up with these products, companies, and brands. That relationship continues to give them a competitive advantage in the marketplace, now filled with multiple brands and options within a single product category.

By the 1920s, radio had become much more popular, and station owners looked to advertising as a way of making their businesses more sustainable. Branding came to life through radio jingles and catchphrases. By 1930, almost 90% of radio stations in the United States were broadcasting commercials. During this time, manufacturers not only sponsored advertisements but entire programs, as well. This took brand identity to a whole new level. It became audible, memorable, and relatable.

After radio came television. On July 1, 1941, Bulova Watches aired the first television commercial before the broadcast of a New York baseball game. It was just 10 seconds long and seen by only a few thousand people. Just like radio, as television rapidly grew in popularity, companies began taking advantage of the new medium by sponsoring shows and creating commercials. With television, brands could now come into people’s homes with visuals, words, sound, and music, bringing them closer to consumers than ever before.

The 1950’s-1960’s is considered the era of modern branding. Car culture, the expansion of the middle-class, suburbanization and the embrace of television created even more opportunities for companies to advertise their brand and reach new audiences. Billboards, subway signs, eye-catching product packaging, and wild, comedic TV commercials (enhanced with the creation of color TV in 1953) were everywhere competing for consumers’ attention.

Helping companies navigate brand building in this new era of product marketing and new advertising options was Madison Avenue, a creative industry built for the times. And no one was more powerful in this world than David Ogilvy, whose Madison Avenue ad agency, Ogilvy & Mather, was responsible for branding 7up as the “Uncola,” and forever associating Hathaway shirts with the man with an eye patch. Ogilvy once described branding as “the intangible sum of a product’s attributes,” and credits “the big idea” as the key to his success. “Unless your advertising contains a big idea, it will pass like a ship in the night.”

Social media, where messaging and content can be highly personalized, targeted, and tracked, has been a game-changer yet comes with new challenges for even long-established brands looking to remain visible and relevant. In this issue, we look at the stories behind such brand giants as Stuckey’s, a roadside attraction once as recognizable on the horizon as the golden arches are today, and Moxie, created around 1876 as a patent medicine that went on to become a beverage icon. Although not as visible and popular on store shelves, the brand never fails to evoke nostalgia among the generations that grew up on this sweet soda with a bite. We also explore the branding of M&Ms and the Frisbee and take a stroll down memory lane with some of your favorite brand icons from childhood.

Companies and products may come and go with the times, but it’s the nostalgia and the branded collectibles left behind that keep their stories and our memories alive. That’s the power of branding!