A Brief History Of Branding

Trend [Middle English, to turn, revolve; from Old English trendan; akin to Middle High German trendel disk, spinning top] (1598) 1 a: to extend in a general direction : follow a general course b: to veer in a new direction : BEND 2 a: to show a tendency : INCLINE b: to become deflected : SHIFT
— Merriam-Webster’s Collegiate. Dictionary, Ninth Edition

In its relatively short life, the web has seen too many trends to count. These trends ebb and flow on the whim of the media that cover them and the venture capitalists that fund them.

While marketers tend to say this reflects consumers’ fickle nature, it more closely resembles Wall Street’s schizophrenia. With their short attention spans, the digerati have sometimes failed to see that The Next Great Thing is sometimes The Last Great Thing, but with a new disguise.

Even more ironic is the tendency among Internet marketers — particularly those who are relatively new to the game — to believe the web invented certain concepts, such as branding.

In this article — and perhaps as an occasional series — we will examine a so-called Internet business trend and demonstrate how little has changed from the early days of marketing and public relations. As the 20- and 30-somethings of the Internet economy congratulate themselves for re-inventing business, we’ll show you how their great grandparents thought of it first.

It’s Not Your Mama’s Laundry Detergent

Right around 1997, for reasons that no one is quite sure of, the word brand suddenly became a verb. Headlines such as A Brand New World, Brands Bite Back, and Branding Tall were attracting marketers like moths to a bug lamp. What might be a real shock to some of the Net set, however, is that Amazon did not invent the concept of branding.

Right after World War I, radio stations started creating networks and airing daytime shows such as Amos and Andy. For the most part, radio station executives ignored these programs — figuring that the audience during the day was not worth the effort of producing any quality programming. In the late 1920s, soap and candle maker Proctor & Gamble developed something called the brand management system.

In 1931, Neil McElroy, the company’s promotion department manager, created a marketing organization based on competing brands managed by dedicated groups of people. The system provided more specialized marketing strategies for each brand, and Procter & Gamble’s brand management system was born.

However, by the late 1930s, more than 30 radio serials reached a daily audience of 40 million — twice the audience reached by television soaps today. This vast audience was a bonanza for program sponsors.

Ma Perkins sent the sales of Oxydol, a laundry detergent made by Proctor & Gamble, through the roof. Proctor & Gamble also sponsored Guiding Light on NBC’s Red Network, which covered 50 television stations. Other soap companies realized the branding potential and started producing their own serials that featured their products. These sponsored serials dominated daytime television and became known as soap operas.

Pampers Web Theater Presents

In 1997, Proctor & Gamble once again demonstrated its willingness to experiment with new programming ventures which integrated (another buzzword among the nouveau marketers) with their marketing initiatives. P&G provided seed money and was an early advertiser for the ParentTime at Work channel on PointCast (since absorbed into EntryPoint) in an effort to reach working women. P&G also financed phys.com, a women’s health and fitness site, with Conde Nast.

While hype may get people to your site at first blush, it won’t keep them coming unless you deliver a trustworthy brand. Studies have shown that web consumers are still drawn to the brands they trust. Sometimes these are Net-only companies such as Amazon. And sometimes they are the blue-chip pre-web companies like Disney or Sony.

Part of the branding recipe is to mix well. P&G knew that by combining traditional advertising with daytime programming sponsorship, they would get more leverage from their name — using one medium to support the others.

Today we have various media to add to the mix as we go for top of mind awareness among consumers. Well-branded companies such as Yahoo know this and spend millions of dollars on offline advertising and promotion.

Proctor & Gamble didn’t necessarily invent branding (perhaps the biblical apostles were the first to brand something called Christianity?). However, the idea of creating an emotional attachment to a product was an idea that long pre-dated the dot-com elite. Whether your business is in the age of Bozo or Bezos, branding is critical to long term success.

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