Advertising started long ago, ‘brands’ are generally accepted as being started by Egyptians in 2,700 BCE (Before the Common Era).
At a simple level for sure, but back then when people wanted to identify their roaming livestock, they marked them with what was essentially, a symbol or a ‘logo’, using a ‘branding’ iron.
A symbol or identification mark, to differentiate their livestock from other owners and hence the use of the name, ‘brand’ from branding iron. (Although it may have come from a German word meaning a burning piece of wood, also used to mark/brand cattle so the same thing)..
But branding was only to identify one horse or cow from the other, for ownership, in the event that they were stolen.
Indeed too, makers of pottery ceramics then, used marks or ‘seals’ to identify the origin (the maker) of the ceramics. Fish sauce, Oil and Wine too became ‘branded’ in those early days. A pot from 490 BCE was found to have the name ‘Sophilos’ and Chinese needles were discovered branded as ‘White Rabbit’.
It identified one seller’s product from another by way of a simple ‘symbol’.
Remember too, that these were pre-literate times, so a visual identifier was easier to understand and hence the symbols or ‘logos’, were visually designed, almost as stamps or marks.
So, a brand was a differentiating symbol or a logo, and branding developed on products, to show ownership and, to build trust, confidence. If you liked a particular ceramic maker or a fish sauce producer, you looked for their mark, their brand, and it gave you that confidence. At the turn of the century, that confidence too developed more around food brands – fish sauce, wine and sugar as an example.
Early brands were in the food space because people wanted confidence and trust in what they ate, above all else.
They wanted to know who made it, how and where it was made as wanted to trust it – because they were consuming it.
Here is my way to explain the start of brands…..which we will need to understand.
The need for branding is perhaps best explained as this.
Let us say the housewife in older days (and yes it was!) went to a local grocery store to buy sugar each week.
When she asked for a bag of sugar, the dirty aproned grocer would have a wooden cask barrel full of sugar underneath the long wooden counter.
The Grocer would then take out his small metallic scoop from underneath the dirty counter and scooping the sugar into a brown paper bag, he sealed it and handed it to her.
She got her sugar.
But the next week she went in, she might have got more, or less in the bag, because the grocer could not judge exactly what he was putting in every week.
It varied in size and consistency, but the price was the same.
He was just scooping it out and consequently, it was different each week.
The Grocer was of course guessing, but the housewife was never sure what she was buying.
Was the bag the same size? Was it the same type of sugar?
Or had the grocer got this week’s sugar batch from some other source and it not be as good?
Nor did she know that he had even cleaned the wooden barrel or that he had even washed the scoop.
When the grocer got to the end of the barrel too, she might have got the last of the sugar that was some weeks old! Tasted differently, for sure.
So, the buyer, the housewife then, was never sure about size, consistency, hygiene, or quality. It changed week by week.
She could not trust it; she did not know nor could be sure as to what she was getting every week.
But then one day, the grocer properly measured out the sugar on weighing scales, put it into a clean white bag, consistently beforehand, kept the hygiene high and put it on the shelves before the housewife came into the shop.
A row of bags of sugar, all the very same in size and quality.
And then the grocer put his name on the bag for re-assurance. He branded it.
He had weighed it properly, kept it from the same supplier and tried to make everything as clean as possible. Consistency and Trust. The housewife now knew what she was getting, and she had a brand to prove it.
The Grocer sold it pre-packed with consistent quality and weight. So, she could be sure that the sugar she got this week, was exactly the same as the sugar she got last week. Weight, Quality, Hygiene, Consistency.
She knew what she was getting, and she liked it. She trusted it and was happy to pay a little more for it. That is the fundamental definition of brand – something you will pay more for – but pay more, for a good reason (a value).
Sticking a label then on the front of the bag with the grocer’s name was his ‘identifier’ (branded like the Egyptian’s horses) that gave trust and confidence because when you saw the label, you just knew what to expect, knew exactly what you were getting and from where it came.
And the brand was an identifier of that product.
You had the grocer’s label (brand) to prove it and in effect, his promise that it was what he said it was. And that was, the reason for birth of consumer brands, the power of brands.
Of course, you paid more for it and were happy to, because it was much better than the old way.
Today, buy a Big Mac in Peru or Des Moines Iowa and it will be the same. McDonalds focus on consistency. Or a tube of Colgate. Or a bottle of Heineken. It will all be the same.
Brands must be consistent to give the customer trust.
The customer needs to know what they are getting every time.
The brand therefore, has to have some value that becomes a competitive advantage (a consistent hygienic bag of sugar was a competitive advantage for our grocer) because that value, was better than competitors, who were still scooping the sugar out into little dirty brown bags.
The good reason for the development of brands was that by adding value,
People Pay more for a Brand.
Everything stems from this first. It is the very definition of a brand – something people will pay more for.
So the important point is trust. People buy a brand they can trust. Whether that is a product or an Ad Agency brand.
Trust is key. A brand can only deliver what’s achievable and you can only promise what you can deliver.
Everything in Advertising starts with brands, including the development of the modern Advertising Agency and that all started in the 1800’s.
In the 1800’s it was the mass production of products in factories that created brands, as producers wanted to distinguish their new deluge of products from competitors. It was the mass explosion of new products that led to manufacturers looking for product differentiation. Exactly as the fish sauce producers had done in Egypt.
But it had to start with the mass production of those products that became, brands.
Once we had products, we had brands. Once we had brands, we had Advertising.
Once we had Advertising, we had Advertising Agencies.