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In September, I visited the Museum of Brands and Packaging in London. It was jam-packed with consumer items from the Victorian Era to the present, from pre-radio and pre-TV times, through the wars, to the age of the smartphone. Arranged in glass cases by decade, the displays are also a history of advertising. I liked the social history aspect: how families changed, the emergence of “teenagers,” and the rise of consumer culture. I liked seeing how people bought things that reflected current events – from toy soldiers to Royal Wedding souvenirs – and we still do.
Most North Americans don’t know that WW2 rationing in the UK lasted until 1954, so there was a post-war decade of scarcity. This was brought home for me in the book 84, Charing Cross Road.
I liked seeing the mix of British and international products and mentally comparing them to the products my family and I used. For example, we have OXO cubes in Canada but drinking Bovril was never a “thing.” (Beef-flavoured drinks – really?!)
Some items I find unusual in the UK are Marmite and Twiglets (that flavour!), shredless marmalade, piccalilli and Branston pickle, mushy peas, salad cream, squash (a syrup used to make drinks) and anything black currant flavoured.
Of course there are also bewildering names like Fairy Liquid (dish detergent) and Marigolds (a brand name of rubber gloves), not to mention the names of unpackaged foods like aubergines and courgettes (eggplant and zucchini).
Rom is always asking me, “Do you (or did you) have this?” and then he names a product he misses like Walnut Whips or flying saucers or cheese-and-onion flavoured crisps.
According to sites that export UK foods to the US and Canada, the most-requested item is Heinz baked beans! Our grocery stores always had Heinz beans with tomato sauce and then they offered “British-style” ones (maybe a more specific tomato sauce recipe) but Rom says they’re still not the same.
It was really fun walking through and talking about all the British trends over the years, especially in toys, games and electronics. The Museum of Childhood in London is also excellent for this! Apart from the delight in vintage wares and nostalgia, the Museum made me think about how consumer needs drive manufacturers to develop what we want, and how advertisers drive us to want things we don’t need. The classic mix of creating or responding to demand.
At the end of the main exhibit, visitors were asked, “What is your favourite brand and why?” You were invited to write or draw on a card and post it on a display wall. I was very impressed that so many visitors were able to draw the logos of their favourite products. Did they look them up on their phones or are they really so familiar? Although I do know toddlers recognize logos like McDonalds before age 2!
Initially, I couldn’t think of any brands I was fiercely loyal to. Would it be a toy, game or doll I loved as a child? A favourite chocolate bar or candy? My most indispensible electronics?
I realized I am critical and evolving when it comes to brand loyalty. For example, when we were kids, my brother and sister and I would have popcorn and Kool-Aid every Sunday night while watching The Wonderful World of Disney on TV. When Link was a preschooler, I avidly bought a large collection of Disney animated movies. But I find most of them unwatchable now (such as Snow White, Dumbo and The Aristocats). Link and I had a good time on our one trip to Disney World, but I found myself focusing on how they operated the parks and maintained their illusions! So, I no longer have any brand loyalty to Disney.
I was loyal to Apple’s iPod and iPhone for a long time, but I am getting ready to switch my music subscription from Apple to Spotify, and give up iTunes. I bought Beats headphones and even a Beats co-branded HP PC, and they were fine, but I didn’t replace them with the same brands again.
When I lived in the US, there were a few Canadian and local products I missed, especially Shreddies (a cereal also available in the UK) and Crispy Crunch chocolate bars. Crispy Crunch is similar to Butterfingers but crispier and saltier!
I buy store-brand and generic canned and packaged foods and almost never insist on a brand name. Come to think of it, though, I don’t like the generic “Cheerios” cereal; maybe they are called oat rings?
It’s easy to define myself by brands I don’t like or don’t want. For example, since I don’t live in the Arctic, I will never need a Canada Goose jacket. I appreciate beautiful design, but I have no interest in luxury brands and don’t expect I will ever buy a Rolex, an Aga or a stay at a Four Seasons.
When I buy workout wear, I actively avoid names like Nike, Lululemon and Under Armour because I have no desire to promote their brands. However, I do like Tuff Athletics (from Costco – best yoga pants!) and Athletic Works from Walmart. Maybe I am just cheap 🙂
I have fond feelings about household products my mom used when I was a kid, even though I don’t use them – such as Sunlight dish detergent (washing up liquid), Pledge furniture polish, Comet scouring powder and Colgate toothpaste. In those days, you were either a Colgate or a Crest family! I remember my dad’s stout brown beer bottles (long gone) and his classic Timex Marlin watch. His cars were less cool since he always needed a family sedan!
I finally identified a few names I have an enduring fondness for. We have a 40” Sony TV that has been going strong for 10 years, and the previous Sony lasted for 15. I have owned a succession of Canon cameras. Our current car, a Honda Fit (equivalent to Honda Jazz) is the best of the last 4 cars either of us has owned. Rom and I both have Casio G-Shock watches we love. We both use the same bank which we’re happy with. We have fallen into the rewards world of our supermarket which is hard to resist (points, special offers, cash back, etc.) We are devout fans of various bands and movies. We have a handful of restaurants we prefer over all others. I had one of the very first Nintendo game systems (NES) and insisted on buying Nintendo game products for Link so they could know the joy of Super Mario, and later Pokemon (which I retain a fondness for). And, of course, our family loves LEGO.
What brands do you love and hate? Are you brand-loyal?