I recently attended an event at the Museum of Brands, Packaging and Advertising, tucked away in London’s Notting Hill. Starting at the age of 16 with a packet of Munchies, consumer historian Robert Opie has since built a charming collection of more than 12,000 items of packaging, postcards, toys and other memorabilia.
The history of consumer culture is revealed decade by decade, from Victorian times to the present day, forming a nostalgic and inspiring reminder of how brands have shaped our lives.
The collection was housed in Gloucester before moving to the capital in 2004 and it’s a shame that I waited so long before discovering it. Not only does it provide an evocative trip down memory lane, but it also serves as wonderful stimulus for today’s generation of brand guardians. Furthermore, it beats any history lesson we had at school.
The recent revival of Wispa and other retro relaunches reminds me that some of the treasures in our archives are more promising than many of the bright young things waiting in our stage-gate innovation funnels. Wispa is even a relative newcomer comparatively, having first been grasped in my grubby hands in the early 1980s, before Cadbury decided it should be granted early retirement in 2003.
Lurking in the brand museum were some true icons from our glorious past – the days when dinner parties were graced with Rowntrees jelly, blancmanges and Matchmakers rather than being sponsored by Gü and Green & Black’s.
As I looked around the museum, I chatted with some fellow industry peers at the museum about the role of packaging. Years ago, brand owners were not pre-occupied with advertising, promotions and Tesco. Instead, they took great care and pride in perfecting their product and its presentation with carefully crafted artwork and copy.
Decades of progress have generally meant bigger pack sizes and less charming graphics (at least in my own case) as we have danced to the demands of the supermarket shelf.
Those brands that were able to advertise back in the day proudly presented their wares with hero pack shots and intelligent copy that did not patronise consumers. Perhaps the reason our ad agencies keep telling us we don’t need big pack shots these days is that our packs are just not as beautiful as they used to be.