Saturday, 5 February 2011

Museum of Brands, Packaging and Advertising

Yesterday I spent the afternoon absolutely absorbed in the Museum of Brands highly informative and inspiring 'time tunnel'. The museum documents the history of consumer culture through nostalgically presenting the iconic brands and packs, posters and adverts, fads and fashions, toys and games from Victorian times to today.

The museum is like a pandora's box full of well-loved brands of favourite household products. As you guide your way through the narrow corridors you can see how these shopping basket goods have evolved through their creative use of packaging and advertising, and the reasons behind how we as a country evolved with them. It is fascinating to learn how global as well as national events and sentiments had such a direct impact on the goods which became available to us.


Owen Jones (1809-74)
Biscuit tin, designed for Huntley & Palmers

The oldest display, that of Victorian products was of most interest to me. The visual appeal of the packaging was incredible with highly decorative floral patterns, an array of colours and crammed with writing. With Queen Victoria on the throne in 1837 the nation became alive with pride, new exciting interests (e.g. photography) and awe inspiring inventions (e.g. gramophones). This, coupled with the benefits of the industrial revolution and significantly improved transport links with a comprehensive railway system allowed for the transportation of goods.

Many of the brands shown in the Victorian era are still firm national favourites today which reflects our reliance upon and habit of purchasing goods which comfort and reassure. Colmans, Cadbury's Robinson's, Lipton and Bovril are examples of some of these relied upon brands.

It was interesting to learn of how Millais' (who was one of the most popular artists in Britain at the time) painting 'Bubbles' was purchased to promote Pears' Soap. This opened the debate about the relationship between art and advertising and many feared paintings would be used purely for commercial exploitation.

In addition the brand was endorsed by Lily Langtree, the society actress-

"For years I have used your soap and no other"

Lily Langtree

I was so surprised to learn that celebrity endorsement had been in existence for such a long time!

During the 1800s the humble board game ruled as far as family entertainment was concerned. However the 1890s hailed the arrival of a new amusement in the form of Snakes and Ladders which came form India. This relates back to the work on the Eastern influence during the 1800s which features in an earlier post about my visit to V&A's British Galleries.


Huntley & Palmers advert 1900

Edward V11 reigned from 1901 to 1910, during which the nation embraced the future at the dawn of a new century.

Significant events included...

-Signing of the Entente Cordiale in 1904
-Struggle of women's suffrage at its height
-Arctic exploration
-Boy scout movement in 1907
-Popularity of tabloid press and comics

It was during this era that the distinctive art nouveau decorative style dominated.

Sales of postcards soared during the Edwardian era. From 1894 they were allowed to be printed with pictorial images which enhanced their popularity significantly Their purpose and design came in many forms and variations- Comic, political, sentimental, greetings, photographic, novelty, hair stuck on them, mechanical, shaped, series of unfolding photos and requiring a tag. In 1908, 850,000 postcards were delivered!


The 1910s were noted for times of turbulent social unrest. Workers were rioting and striking and the public grew increasingly concerned over foreign imports which lead to an 'All British Shopping Week'.

-1912 Sinking of the Titanic
-1912 Captain Scott and his colleagues perished on their return from the South Pole
-August 1914 outbreak of Great War which resulted in the death of 750,000 British and 200,00 from the Empire.

Interestingly enough, the strong sense of patriotism had a direct influence on the name of goods offered to the public, for example Scott & Turner's Victory baking powder. I believe that brands today are far more subtle in their campaign and tend to tap into our sub-conscious instead of being overtly manipulative.

Film-going was a popular pastime, with 4,000 cinemas and the Tango and Foxtrot were favoured styles of dancing. The year 1910 hailed the introduction of many 'o' brands such as Rinso, Bisto and Oxo. This was discussed in more depth at the end of the exhibition with the conclusion that the inclusion of an 'o' gave the word a memorable and catchy sound. During this time, souvenir tins filled with tea, biscuits and confectionery grew in popularity.


After the ravages of wartime Britain came massive unemployment and a housing shortage. A radical sentiment arouse amongst the people which encouraged and harboured Communism.

Also the decade saw...

-the first Youth movement
-the feminine liberation, wining the right to vote, hemlines raised and the corset discarded

Exploration was at the forefront of British pastime. A groundbreaking discovery of Tutankhamun's treasure by Howard Carter in 1922 led to an Egyptian influenced style of fashion.

In my opinion, the dress of the 1920s is so sophisticated and feminine with soft shapes and silhouettes that do not overtly sexualise the female body


An overriding feeling of gloom overshadowed the 30s with 3 million British citizens unemployed and political tension which fueled the Spanish Civil War and heralded the Second World War at the end of the decade.

Deco style dominated the modern look and fashionable accessories such as sun-glasses were made popular by Hollywood film stars. In 1935, the iconic penguin paperbacks were introduced.

On a random note, 1930 also saw the completion of my favourite building of all time, The Chrysler building in New York. A splendid example of Deco inspired architecture.

In 1932, the Mars bar rose to prominence. Followed by the 1937 sensation of Nestle's Milky bar.


Wartime Britain was abundant with new attitudes and values. The years of austerity saw endless shortages and rationing. Interestingly, cartoon characters were created to explain life's fables, such as gremlins. Womens' magazines predominantly featured images depicting the glamorous life of women in uniform and the 'make-do-and-mend' attitude became common.


The 1950s saw renewed optimism with the coronation of young Queen Elizabeth in 1953.

It also welcomed...

-TV commercials and jingles
-New styles
-A travel boom

Pop art rose to prominence in Britain in the mid 50s and had a profound impact on the style of packaging and advertising. Heinz bizzarely introduced cans of curried beans with sultanas and real turtle soup! I had not heard of these before and am very surprised they did not take off!


Style verged from psychedelic fabrics to flower power and the pop scene became highly influential. Youth culture took the lead in a new liberated style and women embraced the mini skirt. Mass audience TV gripped the nation and we all began to pine after a Barbie doll, introduced by Mattel in 1961.


This decade heralded a tough economic time. As far as style was concerned, many drew influence from the Punk movement and wearing platform shoes and flares became common place.


By the 80s global communication was at an all time high. Vast audience would engage in world events, for example the wedding of Charles and Diana in 1981. It will be interesting to see how this grand national occasion will compare to that of Prince William and Kate Middleton this April.

In addition, it is during the 80s that awareness of ecological and environmental issues began to grow. The fall of the Berlin Wall in 1989 signified the lifting of the Iron Curtain and an atmosphere of increased possibility and freedom.


Now this is a decade I can remember. It appears to have been dominated by an increased desire for wealth. In 1994 the lottery was launched and throughout the rest of the decade, the increase in reality TV is significant. Our invested interest in others around us are helpful as far as brands are concerned as we ourselves act as walking billboards or advertisements.

Interesting Pepsi advert from the 1990s inspired by Pop art of the 50s and in particular the work of Andy Warhol.

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