Branded

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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.

UK

Canada

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.

Favourite Brands (photo credit: Museum of Brands)

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.

Having my entire music collection available on my iPod was amazing in its time!

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 🙂 

My mom was loyal to Comet and not Ajax or Bon Ami (must have been the price?)

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?

43 comments

  1. PK

    What on earth are Flying Saucers? lol… just looked them up and they look like off-brand smarties.
    Not proud to say I am an Apple loyalist and I keep telling myself it is not about the brand but the functionality and that another computer just wouldn’t give me the same efficiency. but deep down, I know. My affinity to brands changes with things I care about, for example, I will go to great lengths to buy Blackwing pencils but will pick up any brand of notebook as long as it has plain pages. I am also not as concerned about the brands of home appliances that I use every day as long as the reviews say they are good.

    • I bought some flying saucers and left them in the staff room at work for my coworkers to try. Several wouldn’t eat them and said they didn’t look like food, haha!

      I love my iPhone but have never owned an Apple/Mac computer, but of course they are industry-standard for marketing and design work.

  2. Wow! This was so timely as my OH and I were staying in London last weekend and we finally got to visit the Museum of Brands and loved it – such nostalgia! We had a great time there. We loved seeing all the old biscuits, chocolate, sweets, games and toys from our youth. As you mentioned, the social history was well explained too and even better – as we had travelled up by train from Hampshire; we used a 2for 1 entry voucher from the National Rail booklet. Got to love money saving in London! This was OH’s birthday weekend – big birthday and while we were there we also went to Cutty Sark in Greenwich, saw The Play that Goes Wrong and had an afternoon tea. Phew! Came home for a rest.

  3. ang0660

    Flying saucers are ricepaper sweets filled with sherbet. Very yum.

  4. ang0660

    Thank you for responding – happy Saturday to you. Re brands we like Peugeot cars, Fairy Liquid washing up liquid, Colgate toothpaste, Robinson’s squashes, Cadbury’s chocolate – especially Fruit and Nut and Twirl bars and Eclairs (toffee sweets) and Flavahans oats. Bit of a mixed shopping bag there! Ha ha.

  5. A decade or so ago there was a brand quiz on some website. It was a US site but it was amazing how brand logos are embedded in our brain – even the American ones we don’t have here.

    I have lots of brands I prefer. Some for cheapness, some quality, many just habit (probably because advertising has embedded the brand in my brain!)

    Australia had rationing of some stuff until 1950. Partly because the “imperial ties” to Britain meant we were expected to contribute to Britain’s rebuilding and war debt.

  6. Fun post! One of my favorite things to do in a different country is to go to the grocery store and look at all the interesting packaging!
    I do enjoy Starbucks, American Girl, and M&M, but I try to buy Fair trade chocolate now. Still those M&Ms are cute!

    • Me too – I was excited to see an Aldi supermarket in the UK and a Monoprix in Paris 🙂

      • My daughter and I were able to go to the Netherlands last year, and pretty much the only thing we brought back were strange licorice packages and the always fascinating potato chips in flavors you never imagined!

      • The staff at my library branch have a tradition of bringing new flavours of chips back from vacations and having tasting parties so everyone can try them! I have two coworkers who are licorice connoisseurs. I am not sure about the bitter salted kinds!

  7. I used to work with a Canadian woman who would often complain that she couldn’t find Smarties in the US. I told her she was wrong. Smarties are everywhere, and to prove it, I bought a pack and gave it to her. That’s how I learned that Canadian Smarties and US Smarties have nothing in common.

    The brands I refuse to buy from are usually based on politics – like Walmart, Chick-fil-A, and Jelly Belly.

    I’m not happy with myself for ordering products from Amazon, but there’s nothing else like it, so I continue to shop there.

    Brands I’m loyal to are Harry’s shave club, Lush, Toms of Maine toothpaste, and Toms shoes.

    • Oh no, I didn’t know Jelly Belly was affiliated with actively anti-LGBTQ folks 😦 I am gathering steam to quit buying from Amazon after hearing that many of their returns are dumped because it isn’t cost-effective for them to reshelve or resell them. I will post about Flying Saucers and Smarties on the exactinglife Facebook page!

  8. This may be a little different than ‘brand’ as you describe it in your post, but I have found that there are certain creatives who brand themselves and/or their creations in ways that I recognize and like.

    I really like the artistic style, colirwork, and signature of Patrick Nagel, for example. Imitations do nothing for me — I like his “brand.”

    Likewise, I am a fan of Terry Pratchett’s Discworld. I can’t say I’m fond of *him* — not as a person (to be clear, I’ve nothing against him; it’s just that when people are famous – and then dead – they aren’t someone you can ‘know’ or therefore ‘like’) nor as an author (his non-Disc books and co-authored works do nothing for me) — but the Discworld he created, the characters he brought to life (and death) within that world? I am a loyal fan of that “brand.”

    As more traditionally defined, I don’t think I have much product brand loyalty. Nor am I brand-loyal to any services; it’s always a matter of what’s available versus what I need and can afford (for internet and cell phone service, for example). I am, however, loyal to specific local businesses for shopping and dining.

    I’m also weirdly loyal to the US Postal Service. I do not use UPS or FedEx – mostly because I know too much about some of their awful labor practices and OSHA violations – and even though the USPS is far from perfect, I’ll pick them every time.

    • Great point – personal and creative branding creates a sort of “fandom”! I am a big fan of Keith Haring, Banksy and Peter Blake, among others. I use Canada Post Priority Post rather than UPS, FedEx or the dreadful (in my experience) DHL.

  9. Ovaltine used to be imported into Singapore from the UK when I was a child. But, as I was growing up, a manufacturing plant was set up in Malaysia, and all we could get was Ovaltine, from our neighbouring country. It’s a far cry from what we knew. When an older cousin who emigrated to London came home with a tin, we marvelled at the distinction. So, I totally understand Rom’s feelings about Heinz Baked Beans.
    Admittedly, I do go for brands, but I am not brand-loyal. I switch my preference according to design/taste. I would have loved the Museum of Brands and Packaging. Sounds really fun!
    BTW, did you receive my email, Dar? I have been experiencing strange glitches lately. Messages/Comments on blogs/Emails are not sent and not received, for no reason. They just disappear.

  10. Sounds like a very interesting museum! I had the same reaction to the social history – advertising history aspect when we went to the Coca-Cola Museum in Atlanta. Truly a paean to advertising creating demand. Even the last display was designed to create demand – a rather sticky room where you could dispense drinks for yourself and sample all the different products they create and sell around the world.

    • That reminds me, when I went to Disney World one hot summer, there was a cool-down installation with cold air and mist. It was sponsored by Coca-Cola, and it featured Coke from many different countries, all with distinctive tastes.

  11. If we ever get back to London, this museum is going on our list. It sounds fascinating.

    There were so many interesting and different brands to explore when we were in England. We knew about Marmite and wouldn’t go near it, and we also avoided Heinz beans even though we know they are a thing there. Our favorite brands were in the cookie and candy aisles – Ginger Nuts and anything Cadbury were favorites. And walnut whips! I had one from Marks & Spencer, and absolutely loved it, but then never could find one again.

    I think the brand I’m most loyal to is Apple – I got my first Mac in 1992 and other than a short period where I could only afford a cheap PC, I’ve stuck with them and probably always will (never could get used to the PC). Otherwise, I’m willing to change brands and use generic or store-brands as long as the ingredients and quality is equal to name brand. Products I was loyal to in younger days include Prell or Breck shampoos, Bonne Bell cosmetics, and Keds tennis shoes – other than Keds it’s hard to impossible to find the others.

    • I love Walnut Whips! They are available locally to me at the import section of the grocery store so I have to stop myself from buying them regularly. It is still possible to buy Bonne Belle Lip Smackers 🙂

  12. I was a member of the Ovalteeny club when I was little (Ovaltine) and up until my last new car we always had Citroens. When I drove my Citroen 2CV’s (I had 3 of them) and passed other 2CV drivers on the road it was custom to wave at each other – like a little secret club. We often buy Panasonic and Sony for TV’s, phones etc and I wouldn’t / couldn’t live woithout my Marigolds.

  13. Fiona

    A Museum of Brands – and a Museum of Childhood! It makes me want to go back to London just to experience such places!

    Do you have any iconic Canadian brands that you really miss while away? It’s a cliché, but I do seriously miss Vegemite and we always have it in the house. I’m also loyal to specific medications – generally things I was brought up with, like Vicks. The weirdest brand loyalty I think I’ve had was to baby formula. When I first had to buy formula after my son was about 6 months, I reverted to the one my mother had used for my brothers 2 decades earlier. I didn’t discuss it with her or research any other. It was just the “right”, time-tested brand in my mind!

  14. Mary

    Enjoyed this post. My family moved to the UK from the US in 1953 and lived there into the next decade. I have memories of rationing because I had British relatives. My mother (British war bride) brought things over from the US for her family and continued to supplement them for years afterwards because so many things were hard to come by or just terribly expensive (e.g. cotton sheets/towels). When I went over in 1970, by myself, I had an entire suitcase filled with those kind of things–still trying to help out the extended family all those years later.

    As for brands, I still love PG Tips. Just returned from UK with a box of 240 that only cost me £3.99-just over $5US–from Waitrose. In the US, a box of 80 costs $10. Also had to bring back Smarties (much better than M&Ms), Cadbury buttons and Chocolate Eclairs–a candy–for my now adult children who love them. Stopped bringing back Cadbury Flakes–they don’t survive the journey (and they taste much better when sticking out of a 99Flake). Though even Cadburys don’t taste the same–they changed the formula and ownership. Lots of other UK brands come to mind: salad cream, Whetabix, OXO cubes, Robinson’s Lemon Barley water or orange squash. On and on. These days I can’t say I am loyal to too many brands–food or otherwise. Do love my Subaru; still have my old, working Ipod; only have an Iphone because one of my children passed on their older model when they got a new one and my android–of six years–was dying. Can’t think of any clothing brands that excite me. Most marketers would despair of me.

    • I like PG Tips, too. Sometimes I can find a box of their loose tea as an import in a local store. As kids, our birthday cakes were always decorated with Smarties! Rom loves his ice cream cones with a Flake. Of course he can’t get his favourite ice cream here, Cornish vanilla made with British milk!

  15. Jamie

    I can’t think of any particular brands that we are loyal to, but there are some particular products I will buy again and again.

    I’m a fan of Crabtree & Evelynn hand cream. They had a business hiccup about a year ago and I stocked up big in case they didn’t continue in some way. They seem to have really narrowed their range, but still have a few hand cream scents, so I’m sorted. Once I get through my current stocks… It’s so nice and thick, but doesn’t leave my hands (or feet) feeling greasy for ages.

    I am also a big fan of The Body Shop Vitamin E lip balm. I buy it 10 at a time. I don’t bother trying a different one. I have really sensitive lips with changes in weather and the seasons. It gave me a lot of trouble when I was a kid, but so long as I have this on hand when I need it I have no problems. And even if I don’t have it with me and spend a day in the sun and wind, using it the next day gets things back under control.

    I’m also a fan of Lush Skin’s Shangri La face cream in the winter and Vaseline Intensive Care Aloe Soothe Lotion in the summer. Extremes on price point, so you can tell I’m not ruled by the dollar and the implied value created by that! The Lush cream is so nice and thick for winter, and the Vaseline cream is so light for the summer. I only need one tub of the Lush a year, so the Vaseline balances things out and makes my monthly cost low! Haha!

    I also love John Frieda Miraculous Recovery hair treatment. I’ve been using it for 20 years now. It used to be sold in single sachets, and now you can buy it in a tube, a tub, or as a shampoo/conditioner with that branding. I think they tub is what was in the original sachets and is the best. It has taken me through my bleached blonde days at uni to my frizzy greys today. I use it probably every month or two and am always surprised at the difference it makes.

    Things I will buy again exactly the same when they need replacing: Kathmandu Arbury Jacket (light, but water repellent and wind resistant. Still looks like new after years of use, rolls up small in a bag),Nike Free Run (mesh top doesn’t rub or squish my toes), One Plus phone (great photos and features at a reasonable price compared with the competition).

    • Nice list! I use Simply as a light facial moisturizer but I have switched brands for heavier winter ones several times. Usually because a prior favourite has been discontinued or changed its formula. My go-to lip balms are Burt’s Bees unless I can find locally made ones. I love my North Face winter parka (I wrote a whole post about it). The identical item is discontinued but I would buy the same brand next time.

  16. I definitely go through phases with brands. I would have said I’m loyal to Honda, but I just bought a Toyota Camry to finally replace my 2000 Civic. I’ve only had two smart phones, both iPhones, and two tablets, both iPads. I still use my old iPod nano in the Civic, but I’ve never owned a Mac computer. For fitness trackers though I have and like my relatively simple Fitbit (also my second).

    For decades I only bought pants from New York & Company, because they had talls in stores that I could try on and fit, but lately I prefer jeans from Old Navy. I mostly buy Alaskan Brewing beer (Amber).

    The brands I have more nostalgia for are foreign ones. I loved IKEA, but now that we finally have one in our town it doesnt feel special. I love Daim chocolate from Scandinavia, and Marimekko and Iittala from Finland.

  17. This is an interesting question that’s making me think. Since it’s Sunday night and I’m watching PBS Masterpiece, it occurred to me that I’ve been watching their shows since I was a little girl watching Anne of Green Gables (with Megan Follows,) and All Creatures Great and Small to Downton Abby and now Sanditon. It’s one brand I’ve always loved.

  18. Pingback: Feve's 5: Points To Ponder & Thinky Things ~ Temperature's Rising

  19. Hi! I just wanted to let you know that I have nominated you for The Sunshine Blogger award here: http://everydaylillie.com/2020/02/14/sunshine-bloggers-award/ – I very much enjoy reading your blog!

  20. Dar, did you get the email that I sent on the 13th of Feb? — just checking.

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