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15 May 2010

The Museum of Brands, Packaging and Advertising

Tag(s): Marketing

Most well run companies will have a showroom where they display their current offering. The best will have a museum where they also illustrate the history of the company in terms of the products and services they have offered since the beginning of their time. But what do you do if you want to see how this compares with their competitors? No companies will be so altruistic as to keep a record of their competitors’ offerings as well.

Fortunately one man has been keeping his own archive of food and drink packaging and a whole range of ancillary artefacts. Robert Opie began his collection 40 years ago when as a 16 year old school boy he had second thoughts about throwing away a 7d packet of Munchies (the sweet not the cat food!) He kept the empty pack and so began the world’s largest collection of marketing samples. Eventually he had enough to open a museum which thrived as the Museum of Packaging and Advertising in Gloucester where it attracted more than three quarters of a million visitors over seventeen years.

However, the redevelopment of the Gloucester docks forced Robert to find a new home for his collection, now over 500,000 items. With the support of brand consultancy, pi global, he found that new home in West London. Sponsorship came from food and drink brand owners such as Cadbury’s and Twinings. A list of high profile patrons including Sir Martin Sorrell and Lord Heseltine was secured. In December 2005 the Museum of Brands, Packaging and Advertising was opened to the public.

The Museum exhibits over 10,000 items of marketing and brand communication with  every conceivable form of packaging from the jars and cans of the nineteenth century to the polycarbonates of the twenty-first. These are supported by print advertising and the later reels of TV commercials. In addition there are toys, books, magazines, fashion items and a host of other paraphernalia that provide additional historical context. These are presented in a time tunnel, in a progressive sequence of eras and decades from the early Victorian times up to the present day and this brings the past to life more than many other museums.

The primary purpose of a museum is to conserve and exhibit objects that have historical or artistic value. There is no doubt that this museum serves that purpose even though most of the items were designed to be thrown away rather than be conserved for future generations. Chris Griffin, Chairman of pi global, explains why he believes the industry supported the project: “What we have found is that companies that have been in the business of brands for years jumped at the chance to have their efforts recorded and promoted. As a record of the achievements of an industry it speaks volumes. Although their brands are part of a commercial output they do play a role in society and for that to be showcased and properly represented has real value for them.”

But there is more than one audience for this museum. As Museum Director Robert Opie outlines: “There are three definable groups coming to the Museum: Those that come for the nostalgic, journey through time experience; the design and marketing students and then those that actually work in the industry.”

We are all in that first group. We can all react to the history of products with which we grew up and then stayed loyal in adulthood, even teaching our children to consume products that were bought for us as children. The sight of a well designed packet from decades ago brings back first memories of sight and smell and taste, then the evocation of the time and place in which it was consumed. The museum cleverly merges groups of packages with other memorabilia which locate the time exactly.

The second group of students should learn something about discipline. How great brands evolve with subtle variations in packaging. Some of the best exhibits are those that concentrate on a single brand or product group and show how it has adapted its design to reflect changes in packaging technology but always recreating its clear identity. The hierarchy of communication in the best of these is always clear: A brand or name, a description, a benefit and a graphic presentation of unique identity. Messrs Kellogg, Cadbury, Heinz, Lever, Procter and Gamble, if you were alive today you would be proud of your legacy.

The third group of people who work, or have worked in the industry, including the manufacturers, the retailers, the advertising and promotion agencies, the designers and graphic artists, the media men and women from newspapers through television to today’s experts in search engine optimisation, can first of all take pride in being members of one of Britain’s largest and most successful industries. They can be grateful that their efforts are now on show to a wider audience. They can look back to see how they had to adapt to the external pressure of changes in economic and social conditions, to changes in technology, to shortages in the supply of key materials, to inevitable and constant competitive pressure, to growing retail demands and above all to the consistently increasing demands of the consumer for a good product at a fair price.

The companies that get all of this right, that sustain consumer loyalty over many years are well represented in the museum. They have not just offered deals but have built up the emotional values in their brands. Chris Griffin says:” I think that really demonstrates what marketers mean when they speak of emotion in brand communication. It’s that sense of trust and consistency that great brands have carefully nurtured for years and in some cases centuries.”

Brand managers and not just those from the food and drink industry, are beginning to discover the value of such a resource. “We have had brand managers and their teams coming from a wide range of company types, such as Orange for example, for brainstorming sessions. They can view the brands and understand the choices they have made in their visual identities. Also they can see those brands that have slipped off the radar screen and identify why,” Robert Opie explained. “What is exciting is that we are seeing perhaps some of tomorrow’s marketers coming to the museum to learn from earlier generations.”

As one of those earlier generations I hope that is right.

Copyright David C Pearson 2010 All rights reserved

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