On a recent trip to London, my wife suggested we check out a landmark that she had discovered online – the Museum of Brands, Packaging, and Advertising. After some shopping on Portobello Road, we took a short detour down some residential streets and arrived at the museum.
I came to learn that the museum was founded in 1984 by consumer historian Robert Opie, who had the foresight to collect packaging and advertising artifacts that most would have simply discarded. As its name suggests, the museum is filled with boxes, print ads, commemoratives and more, arranged into historical sections ranging from the Victorian era through modern times.
It was fascinating to see not only the specific brands, but also the broader product categories evolved over the years. While some products like chewing gum have stood the test of time, others like cocaine-based pain relievers are ancient history. Even more interesting, though, was my discovery that the same messaging and positioning concepts that marketers are using today were already widely in effect 100+ years ago.
Citing expert approval or touting awards your product has received? In the 1890s, Coombs’ Flour was advertised as being “recommended by the Leading Experts in Food and Cookery” as well as having “gained Nine Prize Medals and One Diploma of Honour”. I’m not sure how a bag of flour earns a “diploma of honour” or who would even confer such an award, but it definitely sounds impressive.
What about advertising with the “everyone is doing it” approach? In the 1910s, Kellogg’s was reminding customers that their Toasted Corn Flakes were “The Favorite Cereal in Millions of Homes”. Remember, this was in the days before Count Chocula and Fruity Pebbles – those folks had no idea how boring Corn Flakes would prove to be!
In the mid-1910s the Marietta Stanley Company in Grand Rapids, MI combined two popular tactics – the celebrity endorsement and the trial offer – in their Sempre Giovine complexion cake advertisement. It leads off with the note that “Elsie Janis, the inimitable star of vaudeville…is a constant user” of this skin care product, and it concludes with an invitation to send in a mere two cents (coin or stamps) for a “liberal 7-day trial cake.”
If you find yourself in the Notting Hill area, I would highly recommend stopping in at the Museum of Brands to study the history of our craft. If you’re lucky, you just might leave with a few new/old ideas for your next marketing campaign.