20 milestones in the history of branding

Lippincott's timeline traces the evolution of branding from prehistory to the present day.

From tomorrow Lippincott – the creative consultancy behind the Coca-Cola ribbon, the Campbell's soup label and the latest Starbucks siren – is staging a new exhibition at the Design Museum as part of London Design Festival (September 19-27).

Like me: Our bond with brands explores the power of the bond between people and brands.

As part of the exhibition, Lippincott has created a brand timeline which takes a fresh look at the evolution of branding.

Knowing where we come from is always important when considering where we're going. So for anyone who's involved in the branding industry, here's the timeline in full...

01. Branding in nature

The original concept of branding comes direct from nature

Nature evolved a simple yet sophisticated language of branding. We quickly learned it, we had to, and still use this language today

02. Cave paintings

Chauvet cave painting
  • Approx. 32,000 years ago

Cave paintings show some of the first examples of how humans transcribed their world into visual representations that have deeper meaning. Despite lacking direct translation, the decorated walls are an important demonstration of how our Homo Sapien ancestors were hard-wired to brand.

03. Cattle branding

Branding literally means to burn
  • 2,700 BC

Derived from the Old Norse 'brandr', meaning 'to burn', branding started quite literally. Cattle branding was one of the earliest examples of simplification, signifying ownership and, through association over time, connoting taste and quality.

04. Human use of symbols

The Ichthys fish
  • 1 AD

As cave dwelling communities evolved into modern civilizations, so evolved our ability to capture concepts. The ichthys —the sign of the fish — served as a secret symbol that united Christians under a common belief and built a strong focus for their sense of belonging.

05. Pompeii bread

Pompeii bread
  • 79 AD

Recovered from the ruins of Pompeii, a loaf of miraculously preserved bread provides a peek into early product differentiation. Markings on the bread signify its bakery of origin, use, price or intended recipient, demonstrating the need for branding in a complex market and simplifying consumer choice for perhaps the first time.

06. Union Jack

  • 1606

Mixing brand identities can yield interesting results, such as when England and Scotland unified under the first version of the Union Jack, an early example of a merger of competing brands. Later, with the inclusion of Ireland in 1801, it became the asymmetric oddity we know today, a potent symbol of an eclectic culture.

07. Napoleon's hat

  • 1804

Napoleon's cocked hat

Napoleon, not blessed with the ready-made brand of royalty, understood the power a leader's brand can command. Taking the traditions of royalty, he renamed, redesigned and repurposed them for himself and the Republic. He wore his hat sideways as a mark of his identity, and two centuries later this symbol of individualism is still remembered.

08. The first trademark

Bass Pale Ale label
  • 1876

Although products, like pottery and baked goods, had been marked to show origin or ownership as far back as the first millennium BC, it is only recently that this ownership has been protected. On January 1, 1876, the red triangle of Bass Ale became the U.K.'s first official trademark and paved the way for brand as we know it today.

09. The Michelin guide

An early version of the Michelin man
  • 1900

The start of the 20th century saw the first glimpse of brand as experience when the tyre manufacturers André and Édouard Michelin published the first edition of a free guide for French motorists. By providing maps and information to aid long journeys, they hoped to increase the demand for cars and therefore tyres. In 1926 they went further, developing a three-star fine-dining rating system encouraging drivers to explore restaurants.

  • One star: 'A very good restaurant in its category'
  • Two stars: 'Excellent cooking, worth a detour'
  • Three stars: 'Exceptional cuisine, worth a special journey'

10. The first audio service mark

The NBC chimes logo
  • 1950

NBC's xylophone chimes were first performed live on the radio in 1929 and in 1950 were registered as the first audio service mark. They are still in use today and have been heard by tens of millions of people. This pales next to the Nokia ring tone. In 2010 estimates suggest the tune was heard about 1.8 billion times per day, 20,000 times per second.

11. The birth of corporate identity

Lippincott archive image
  • 1958

As the competitive brand landscape intensified, companies undertook massive design programmes to streamline their look. In 1958 Gordon Lippincott coined the term 'corporate identity', and in 1965, Wally Olins founded Wolff Olins. Later, when reflecting on these corporate identity programmes, Wally said, 'There was some elegant work done, but that approach looks authoritarian and obvious now'. It was just the beginning of a field that continues to evolve today.

12. The Apple Mac

Macintosh 128k computer. Image courtesy of the WikiProject Macintosh
  • 1984

The first computers were as incomprehensible to the layperson as quantum mechanics. But in 1984, Apple's Macintosh revolutionised the computing experience. Well-designed and with a humanised interface, it created a new tribe inspired by a belief in simple, stylish technology.

13. Nestlé buys Rowntree

KitKat
  • 1988

Acquisitions were not uncommon in the 1980s, but eyebrows were raised when Nestlé bought Rowntree, the maker of KitKat. While Rowntree was valued at £1 billion, Nestlé paid £2.5 billion for the company. By paying more for the intangible than the tangible, Nestlé was valuing belief above company.

14. Just do it

  • 1988

In 1987, Reebok was the clear leader in the U.S. training shoe market. The following year, Nike released the “Just Do It” campaign, transforming our understanding of trainers. Suddenly, we all wanted some of that attitude. Nike was one of the first brands to tap into this deeper vein and elevate its brand far above its products.

15. Like this

  • 2004

The birth of Facebook gave us one of the first 'publicly owned' brands. Its 1.4 billion active monthly users post over 3 million times per minute, building their own brands and creating their own brand tribes.

16. Google enters the dictionary

  • 2006

Would you say, 'Bing it' or 'Yahoo it'? Probably not. Yet 'Google' entered the dictionary as a verb in 2006, joining Escalator, Hoover, Breathalyser, Ping-Pong and heroin as brands that have been absorbed into our language.

17. Gap logo withdrawn

Gap's abandoned logo
  • 2010

After releasing a new logo, Gap quickly discovered the power of open dialogue with customers. 'Ok. We've heard loud and clear that you don't like the new logo', the company said on its Facebook page a few days after the logo's launch. 'We only want what's best for the brand and our customers…we're bringing back the Blue Box tonight.'

18. Branding hard-wires brains

This is your brain on brands
  • 2011

As companies grow more adept at building deep connections, neuroscience shows us their efforts are succeeding. A 2011 study showed that if you show images of Apple products to an Apple fan, it lights up the same part of the brain as showing images of a deity to a religious person.

19. Babies given brand names

Nutella
  • 2015

When French parents tried to name their newborn daughter 'Nutella', the government intervened, ruling that it was 'not in the best interest of the child'. Giving babies brand names is increasing but is not new; in 2002 'Ikea' was born in the U.K., and in 2011 'Facebook' was born in Egypt. Names like Joshua, Noah or Mohammed now have unlikely competition.

20. A new generation of brands

Airbnb
  • Present day

Founded in 2008, Airbnb is one of a new generation of brands that take needs we have always satisfied on one-to-a-few basis and meets them through a virtual community. With no real assets beyond its community, Airbnb has become a £16 billion brand and disrupted the markets we have all taken for granted.

Visit Lippicott's Like me: Our bond with brands exhibition at the Design Museum from September 19-27 as part of London Design Festival.

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