Inspiration Days:

Harriet takes a walk down Branding Memory Lane

Here at TCC, we encourage our people to take Inspiration Days – days to go and do something they’ve always wanted to do. Whether that’s going to the latest exhibition at the National Gallery or spending a day painting a masterpiece in Hyde Park.

Our Digital Growth Manager, Harriet, took an Inspiration Day last Friday to visit the Museum of Brands in Ladbroke Grove, London. The experience in her own words:

“The Museum of Brands has long been on my to-do list, so Friday’s Inspiration Day was super exciting for me! I wanted to take a look at how branding has evolved, how brands position themselves today versus thirty or one hundred years ago. Founded by consumer historian Robert Opie, the museum showcases over 12,000 original items dating from the Victorian era to today.

A chronological walk-through of branding through the years

The museum’s centrepiece is the ‘Time Tunnel’, a chronological walkthrough exhibit that allows visitors to browse decades of consumer goods and packaging. The shelves hold thousands of iconic products, advertisements, publications and packaging, from well-known brands across various categories, including food, household items, medicine, and toys.

The collection provides insights into changing graphic design trends, marketing strategies, and highlights how brands have evolved alongside social changes, technological advancements, economic changes, and shifting consumer preferences.

I found it fascinating to compare brands’ logos, colours, and design choices throughout the years, seeing how they vary from decade to decade, and from peacetime to wartime. 

It was interesting, too, to see the collection of packaging from the 90s and early 00s too – some of the ads and branding I remember from when I was a child, including some discontinued products!

I will break down some of my key observations of how branding and advertising has responded to these changes over the years, and also present some predictions for the next 10 years, with input from our Marketing Director, Jas, and our Client Services Director, Dawn.

Economic shifts

Economic changes during wartime in the 1920s, 30s, and 40s ushers in pain-point marketing centred around rationing, cost-saving, and doing more with less.

  • Brands are more conservative with colour and ink usage during these times
  • Packaging focuses on cost-saving slogans, e.g. – 10% extra in each box
  • Advertisements and packaging showcase products as ‘week-end sweets’ and special treats, positioning their products as accessible luxuries for families
  • Fry’s chocolate spread ads promised to be the answer to the problem of butter shortages during wartime rationing

Conversely, colours and logos during peacetime and periods of Western economic security were noticeably more colourful, featuring abstract patterns. Hooks and slogans were tied to emotion and social drivers as a way of tapping into the psychology of the consumer.

  • Pepsi’s ‘Be sociable – have a Pepsi’ ads highlighted the post-war buzz that was returning to communities
  • Bird’s Eye’s ‘The happiest way of eating fish!’ and ‘Wonderful eating’ ads of the 1950s shows a shift from war-time rationing and austerity to a happier, more affluent society who felt more positive about spending and trying new things
  • Brands’ tones of voice became more cheery and exuberant

Social attitude shifts

Rigid gender roles and social classes meant that marketing was highly targeted. The adverts and packaging in the Victorian era right through to the 1960s geared household products and food heavily towards women, and motor oils and other car and sport products largely advertised towards men.

  • Adverts for food and homewares were geared towards the stereotypical housewife’s lifestyle, with ads encouraging them to discuss the best brands with their friends over a cup of tea, e.g. – Ambrosia’s creamed rice advert from the 1950s
  • Mens’ personal hygiene products were also marketed towards women, with women being the decision-makers of majority of their family’s shopping

You can see a shift towards social equality emerge in the 1990s, with packaging and ads becoming slightly more gender-neutral.

  • Laundry and household product packaging featured women far less often, featuring depictions of the fragrance instead, e.g. – Toilet Duck’s pastel-coloured bottles featuring scent-inspired artwork such as Japanese Garden
  • Food and beverage packaging shifted to showing the actual product or ingredients on the packaging rather than the consumer

Technological advancement

The Victorian era and entirety of the 1900s saw seismic shifts in technology shake up the world of the consumer. From refrigerators to radios to vacuum cleaners, as the decades went by, more and more consumers could afford to innovate with tech in their own homes, cutting down manual effort and saving time on routine household tasks. As such, technology adverts and packaging highlighted accessibility and cost-effectiveness.

Time and effort saved by the use of these technologies helped people enjoy more leisure time too, which in turn affected consumer habits in the decades that followed.

Branding for the future

I’ve been speculating about what trends we will see in branding and advertising over the next 10 years, especially as social sentiments evolve, economies flux, and environmental concerns become even more pressing for companies to address. Currently, we’re seeing living costs soaring across most of the Western world. I wonder whether this may lead to a rise in “value luxury” products – expanded, affordable lines by luxury retail and food companies. Packaging and branding may evolve to have a more ‘luxe’ feel, too.

In terms of the environment, the pressure is on for companies to continue innovating, to continue finding new ways of packaging their products that don’t have a negative impact on the environment, with some brands leading the way with environmentally-positive packaging, e.g. – food wrappers containing plant seeds.

Technologically-speaking, I predict further evolution of Virtual Reality (VR)- and Augmented Reality (AR)-centred marketing, with brands leveraging it to create the hyper-personalised experiences consumers of today are craving.”

Harriet Barley, Digital Growth Manager, TCC

“With rapid AI & tech advancements, we’re noticing a countertrend: brands are increasingly valuing authenticity and human connection. Consumers are looking for brands with integrity—ones that offer real value and genuine interactions, whether that’s through events, knowledge sharing, driving community or ESG initiatives are top of mind.”

Jasmir Bains, Marketing Director, TCC

“We’re seeing a fascinating shift in how Gen Z and Gen A engage with brands. They’re not just looking for products; they’re craving immersive experiences that blur the lines between digital and physical. Our approach is to create these moments in-store, where technology and creativity come together to offer something truly unique and memorable.”

Dawn Nottley, Client Services Director, TCC

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