Golden oldies

JOHN HAMER reports on a recent visit to the Museum of Brands, Packaging and Advertising in Notting Hill, London, and draws some parallels with the current re-branding debate...

JOHN HAMER reports on a recent visit to the Museum of Brands, Packaging and Advertising in Notting Hill, London, and draws some parallels with the current re-branding debate within the Movement.

As retail societies debate whether to adopt The co-operative brand, it is useful to be reminded that branding isn&#039t everything. What matters just as much (and, arguably, a whole lot more) is the quality of the product or service, its delivery and its relevance to consumers.
However strong the brand, a business is never any better than the people who are running it. And even the best managed companies can come unstuck for the most unexpected reasons ? as we have just seen with Wal-Mart in Germany, where it has retreated from the market with its tail between its legs after failing to make its retail formula work; or the disastrous sales now being seen by Cadbury, as consumers vote with their feet and reject its apparently cavalier approach to food safety issues; or the global decline of Kodak as it responded, too little and too late, to the challenges of digital photography.
To witness how many of the most powerful, seemingly invincible brands have withered and died ? through failure to meet a competitive threat or keep abreast of changing technology or sheer management incompetence ? a stroll around the Museum of Brands, Packaging and Advertising in West London is a salutary experience. Here you will see countless household names that no longer have a place in our fridges, store cupboards and homes, and you may well wonder: where did it all go wrong?
The museum offers a social history of Britain through the advertising and packaging of the consumer goods that have become an integral part of our everyday lives, from the Victorian era to the present day.
And, of course, it includes many once-familiar products that are no longer on the scene. Whatever happened to Callard and Bowser toffee, Reckitt&#039s dolly blue (if you don&#039t know what that is, ask your grandmother or Google it) and Tide washing powder? How are the mighty fallen! Or Hudson&#039s soap, Zebo black lead and Peek Freans biscuits?
Needless to say, there are also plenty of brand names that have stood the test of time, and a constant theme in the decade-by-decade displays of changing consumer tastes and needs is provided by the Co-op.
We may not have much of a retail presence these days in Notting Hill, but it&#039s good to know that our branded goods are featured prominently in this cornucopia of packaging and advertising located just a stone&#039s throw from the Portobello Road.
Pelaw Polish, Crumpsall Cream Crackers, 99 Tea and many other products from the once-prolific factories of the Co-operative Wholesale Society and the Scottish CWS are all on show, a testament to the skills of the commercial artists in Balloon Street who gave them such enduring identities.
The display gives a valuable insight into how the Movement, which effectively invented the concept of ?own-brand&#039 products, used a plethora of names and symbols to compete effectively and to maintain its domination of the High Street before the introduction of the single, all unifying Co-op logo ? and before the rise of our multiple competitors.
What stands out is the quality of Co-op package design and shop counter display cards, underlining the Movement&#039s confidence and strength. We&#039ll happily fly the flag on a tin of CWS Imperial Biscuits (circa 1905), doff our working-class caps to royalty on a tin of CWS Coronation Biscuits (the 1911 coronation of George V) or take a swing towards the latest sporting trends, as in the 1930s golfing slogan ?Always fill your caddy with CWS Tea&#039.
There was certainly not much of a problem with our branding in those days, though I&#039m reminded that when, in the 1950s, my cousin was given a new bicycle, he suffered a lot of ribbing from his schoolboy peers because of the maker&#039s name on the frame ? CWS, which as every youngster knew meant his bike was made of Copper Wire and String.
Oh, if only he could have had a Raleigh like everyone else! As we now know, it was around the 1950s that the Co-op began the first stages of its decline, so maybe those silly and childish jibes had more significance than we realised at the time.
The Museum of Brands is a venue that will delight co-operators with the slightest interest in social history or who simply enjoy a long wallow in nostalgia.
It won&#039t help anyone to decide whether to follow the new branding concepts embraced by the Co-operative Group. But it is a timely way of showing that a brand is only as strong as the product or service behind it.
? The Museum of Brands, Packaging and Advertising is based on the amazing collection of 500,000 items relating to the history of our consumer society built up over the years by Robert Opie. It can be found at 2 Colville Mews, Lonsdale Road, Notting Hill, London W11 2AR, Tel. 020 7908 0880 or

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