Branding – history and evolution

BRANDR – Viking word – was a burning tool used to mark the cattle, as a symbol of property, but also as a method to identify and discourage theft. The main purpose of the term is kept until today: to show ownership. The branded object reflect the originality and property which make it different from the rest.


The method to mark someone’s property is and old process, that dates from the Ancient Era, when craftsmen, potters, farmers, blacksmiths, and all type of manufactures, “branded” their goods with distinctive signs and writing. This way the buyer knew who made that good, it’s origin, and implicitly it’s quality.

The brand tells the story of the object.

Amphore, Sources: Photo 1 Photo2

Left –  heraldic Anglo-Saxon shields , Right – the coat of arms of Great Britain, Photo source

Medieval Times

During the Middle Ages, the symbols evolved from marking the ownership of cattle, to showing the membership in certain craft guilds, families and lands.

Signs that are more complex were born during this era: the coats of arms, which represent hereditary symbols that tell the history of noble families, their alliances and qualities. These symbols were initially used on shields, with the main purpose of recognition and differentiation on the battlefield; today they stand for the rich and glorious history.


The industrial revolution

The emergence of mass production as a result of efficient growth and technology brought a multitude of products on the market, so implicitly more options for consumers.

The competition forced the companies to take a stand and to differentiate their products from the rest, and to protect them from fakes and copies. Thus, almost simultaneously, the big industrialized countries started to make the first steps in the process of stablishing a legal framework for protecting the ownership of trademarks. (France 1857, UK 1862, USA 1870).

This is the start of modern branding, which allows companies to officially claim their right for product property, to stand out and to combat fakes and copycats.

The industrial revolutions, from workshops to factories.

Înainte de a se stabili cadrul legal pentru protejarea mărcilor, marile companii se foloseau de numele lor și se promovau prin anunțuri în ziare, afișe și panouri publicitare. Numele companiilor erau de fapt numele fondatorilor lor, uneori al inventatorilor sau al zonei geografice.

Before the legal framework for trademark protection was established, large companies used their names and promoted themselves through advertisements in newspapers, posters and billboards. The advertising was based mainly on written messages, the decorative elements were introduced later. In the attached image we have the first Colgate ad in a New York newspaper from 1817 (source) a along with an ad made over half a century later, in the newspaper “The Indianapolis” – October 18, 1891  (source). 

In these times the publicity of the brands relied on billboards and newspaper ads.

A London Street Scene (1840), by John Parry,  Photo source

The pioneer in international brand marketing is Bass. The company differentiated its beer bottles according to the factory that manufactured them, by applying the white, red or blue triangle. The Bass Red Triangle was the first trademark registered in England under the Trademark Registration Act of 1875.

In 1882, Édouard Manet painted “A Bar aux Folies Bergère”, considered to be his last major work, and it was exhibited in the same year at the Paris Salon. The painting illustrates a night scene in the Folies Bergère Club in Paris. The Bass beer bottles can be seen at the bottom of the painting, more visible on the right. Bass is not only the first officially registered logo, but is also the first brand to appear in a work of art.

The inventions Era

The beginning of the twentieth century encapsulates the diverse facets of humanity: from wars and inventions to the emergence and consolidation of iconic brands like: Coca-Cola, Michelin, Ford Motor Company, Chanel, Marks & Spencer, Lego.

 Although the concept of a branding agency took several decades to be born, advertising agencies played an important role in increasing brand awareness. They were responsible for the graphic design of ads, slogans and mottos, and focused on selling advertising space for the brands.

Every major brand gained its audience through posters and billboards. When the new media channels appeared: radio and TV, the game changed forever

Printed Coca-Cola ad,mat 7h 1911 (source), Color Michelin Man Poster, 1912 (source)

The media effect

The first radio advertise was broadcasted in the USA in 1922, and belonged to Queensboro Corporation who was promoting the sale of apartments in Jackson Heights. The price for 50 minutes of airtime was 50 $. This was the start of radio commercials, and by the year 1930 almost all radio stations in the US were broadcasting ads and sponsored programs.

In other parts of the world, the radio advertising was not so popular. Although BBC owned the British airwaves for so many year, and ironically it was born in the year 1922, their first radio sponsored ad aired in 1973.


The first televison ad was aired in 194 by Bulova Watches and it has opened the era of TV commercials. Other television ads from the 40’s and the 50’s can be seen here

The first TV ad – Bulova – 1941

The start of consumerism– the 50’s

The early 1950s marked the culture of consumerism. In the US, the middle class was flourishing, the automotive industry was expanding rapidly, and the invention of color TV in 1953, brought brands directly into people’s homes.

The pioneer of television advertising, Rosser Reeves, invented the Unique Selling Point (USP), (not the same thing as the slogan); an advertising tactic that involves finding the unique, representative attribute of the product, and highlighting it on all media channels. By repeating and promoting the USP of the product, the brand solidifies itself in the minds of consumers.

Example: “M&M’s melts in your mouth, not in your hand”

Ten years later, the approach to advertising has changed radically, and has shifted to emotional impact. During this period, companies began to understand the importance of a brand strategy and a competent brand management; tools that helped them study their target consumer groups, understand audiences and establish emotional connections between products and consumers. 

It is the moment when the brand become independent entities, which encompasses everything the consumer needs: emotions, aspirations, pleasures and belonging.

Malboro Man, the iconic American masculine.

From the 60’s to the 90’s. Consumerism, globalization and adaptation

In the early 1960s, the United States produced almost half of the world’s goods, and as the economy was flourishing, revenues were also growing along with new sets of services and goods. 

In the fast-food industry Mc Donald’s becomes one of biggest global fast-food chains, having a consistent branding, adapted to changes of time. The memorable “golden arches”, that later have become the letter “M” from the logo, are one of the most recognizable international symbols.

Left: advertising postcard, 1967 ”McDonalds Golden Arches” – the vision of Richard, one of the two  McDonald brothers, Right: Ray Kroc, the American businessman who took over the entire business.

Another example of consumerism growing is represented by the retail industry, as hypermarket chains begun to appear in the same time both in Europe and the USA (Carrefour and Wallmart).  

Brands start to expand at international level (L’Oréal, Coca-Cola, Nike).

Buyers are no longer simple consumers of goods, but brand consumers. The brand begins to acquire multiple dimensions. In addition to the attributes of the product: quality, durability, freshness, appearance, aesthetics etc., the brand offers experience and felling of belonging, so the choice becomes a personal preference.

Brand loyalty and personality are now dictating the success of businesses.

Most global brands, are powerful today, because, starting this the second half of the last century they have succeed to transform the consumption into-o a life-style choice. People are transforming from passive consumers into active targets of brand messaging.

The 90’s – the internet is born

The classic marketing channels: printing and television, are the most powerful advertising tools, but a new opportunity is gradually emerging: the Internet. It is the calm before the digital storm.

The World Wide Web was launched in 1991 and gained popularity in 1994 thanks to Netscape, the first browser to capitalize on the new www.

As the number of users was increasing, new search and email engine appeared: Yahoo – 1994 and Google – 1997.

Source print screen Yahoo, Source print screen Google

These new instruments increased the arsenal of marketing and foretold the mass adoption of the Internet in the everyday life: an event that radically changed the way brands are displayed.

 2000 / present / future

The first decade of the milenium has brought us the first social media platforms: 2002), Myspace (2003), Facebook (2004),Twitter (2007) and Instagram (2010).

It’s time for brands to become more creative in order to stand out in communities and to establish lasting engagement.

This is the era when consumers are in power. Reviews and ratings are essentials and influence the way a brand is perceived. Marketing must engage clients in a long-term relationship, ongoing discussion and build a brand loyalty. The reputation is dictated by the consumers, who are now critics and promotors in the same time.   

The mission of the brand aquires new proportions. To deliver good products or services is no longer enough. Brands must deliver sensations and emotion and engage in social causes that transcends the sphere of the individual.

Exemple: In January 2019, Gillette has updated its 30-year-old slogan from “the best a man can get” to “the best men can be”, along with an advertising campaign for the #MeToo cause, which addresses social issues of sexual harassment, bullying and toxic masculinity. On this occasion, the brand showed its commitment to this cause by donating 1 million dollars for 3 years to non-profit organizations that educates and helps men of all ages to reach their “best” level and become role models for the next generation.

Nowadays the brand has acquired new dimensions and complexities. The challenge is to stand out and find ways to break the background noise.

A consistent branding, adapted to the present and the future, needs to communicate with transparency and ease the essential messages, to face the paradigm shifts, and to attract at the same time through aesthetics and values.

Author: Ana Armeanu, November 2020