Branding and Culture

John Sinclair


As early as Roman times, sword blades and wine containers were marked to identify the producer, suggesting that branding has always had basic functions which we have easily lost sight of in the brand-saturated culture of global capitalism today. Again, in the medieval era, craft workers identified their products with trademarks, the forerunner of the distinctively packaged and widely distributed branded goods which came to characterize the industrial era. Thus the elementary purposes of the trademark, and hence, the brand, are to “uniquely identify” the maker of a given product, to differentiate that product from its competitors (and imitators), and to provide a warrant of quality and consistency to the purchaser (Aaker 1991, 7).

By the nineteenth century, rather than buying bulk, generic goods like oats, weighed out by the grocer, shoppers were learning to identify their preference amongst the packets on the shelf – would it be Quaker or Scott’s Porage Oats? And around the same time, householders were coming to appreciate the convenience of branded products, like Ivory, Pear’s, or Lifebuoy soap in packets, rather than having to make their own lye soap at home. In this way, manufacturers were using the distinctiveness of brands, along with their display and packaging, to establish a direct relationship with consumers, so that the traditional intermediary role of the retailer was bypassed by the brand itself serving to sell the product, ...

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