15 Apr /16

Brand advertising

To start us off on the journey of brand advertising, let’s begin by looking at both of the words in this term individually.

‘Brand’ has its roots in the Germanic family of languages; an Old English word which meant ‘a burning’ or ‘a smouldering piece of wood’. ‘Brand’, in this sense, first appeared in Britain’s oldest known text Beowulf.

But consumers of the 21st century have a very different interpretation of the word— perhaps something more like the “emotional connection a consumer feels towards a company and its products”. This wasn’t the brand on Beowulf’s mind, so how did we get here?

Take the Old English ‘brand’, take it into the age of Middle English, when the verb meant ‘to mark with a hot iron’, move on into the 17th century when the sense is of marking ownership by branding and, by the end of the 19th century, ‘brand’ was being used in the sense of the trademark of a product. We still haven’t quite arrived at today’s meaning, but we’ll come back to this. Next is ‘advertising’.

Writing for the London weekly Universal Chronicle in 1759, Johnson Idler commented: “The trade of advertising is now so near to perfection, that it is not easy to propose any improvement”. Wow.

Advertising has been around for longer than you may imagine, and by the 19th century it was already an active industry. In 1888, The USA created its first advertising trade magazine Printer’s Ink, published until 1972 at which point, incidentally, the well-known Harper’s Magazine was already in popular circulation (1850 to the present day).

The verb ‘advertise’ derives from the Latin word advertere which means ‘to turn towards’. The language of Old French used the verb advertir and, subsequently, advertissement (‘a statement calling attention to something’) came into English as ‘advertisement’, which was shortened to ‘advert’.

At the start of the 1920’s, then, commercial radio was born but with the development of mass media through press, cinema and TV came the shift in our understanding of the word ‘brand’. Look at the two quotes from literature of the era:

In 1950…

“Each package has a brand name, which identifies the product as having been made by a certain manufacturer” (Economics in our Democracy, A. H. Sayer et al., 1950)

But by 1958…

“Ogilvy’s brand-image advertising..works essentially on the consumer’s conscious mind in an effort to convince him that brand A, technically identical with brand B, is somehow a better product”. (Madison Avenue, Martin Mayer, 1959)

It’s a move from the physical to the emotional.

The era of brand advertising was born, connecting a consumer emotionally with a company and its products. But things move on, so what is the future for the term ‘brand advertising’? In an age of digital data and quantifiable results, it’s not having an easy time.

Brian Stempeck, Chief Client Officer for The Trade Desk writing for imediconneciotn.com writes “Better measurement tools are killing brand advertising…hold [your] media partners accountable for specific performance goals and reject the vague metrics of branding”.

Will today’s Word-of-the-day eventually become a term to store away in the vault of linguistic history?