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The history of brand in 2 minutes

Kate Elizabeth — 10 December 2018


To understand the history of brand management, we first need to understand where the term 'brand'originated.

'Brand' in the modern sense, is commonly associated with the name of a product or service, similar to a trademark. A brand is more than the name or logo, of course, it is the promise to the customer, and their perception of how well you deliver upon that promise.

An indelible mark

Go back a couple of millennia, however, and a brand was used by livestock owners to mark their animals so they would be identifiable across lands, at market and in the slaughterhouses. The branding iron was used to sear the mark of the owner into the hide of each head of cattle. Yes really, that long ago. Egyptian funeral monuments show branded cattle, making the practice at least 4000 years old.

Potters also used marks and engravings to identify who made the product, where they were made and even the materials used. Chinese potters were using distinguishing marks more than 4000 years ago.

The practice existed long before the word was defined. The term brand originated in Old Norse - brandr - and referred to burning wood. By the 17th century, it applied to a stamp of ownership made by branding.

It meant no matter where the product was sold; it was identifiable as having come from a particular place and farmer. As well as aiming to reduce theft, it helped build a reputation for the quality of the meat and hide.

Watermarks rose to prominence during the Middle Ages, used by papermakers and printing houses to identify and differentiate their work.

Mark of quality

Eventually, people started to associate value with individual makers, seeking out these products and increasing demand. Other people sought to join the producers and guilds of these products, to learn from those at the top of their field.

Imitation was increasingly common, and the brands or marks were used to demonstrate 'genuine' goods from a reputable and sought after supplier.

Guilds and producers began formalising their marks and differentiating themselves from each other.

During the Industrial Revolution, as items were produced in higher volume, branding and marks were used to 'remove' the generic nature of the goods.

(Did you see what we did there? It didn't make the item any less generic, but it did change the perception of the product ... the start of modern brand and branding as we know it).

To protect their mark of quality, companies pressured politicians to preserve their point of difference, and the Trade Marks Registration Act passed into law in 1875.

Canny businessman spotted gaps in the market and realised businesses didn't need to be the only one, or markedly different; they just needed to position themselves as such.

James Walter Thompson started an advertising agency in the late 19th century and detailed the concept of trademark advertising, and from there the use of slogans, mascots, custom design and messaging grew into the behemoth that is brand and marketing today.

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