Being a print production person, I’m not much for delving into the philosophy or science of branding. Interesting, yes. At times compelling, absolutely. But you’re more likely to find me fascinated with substrates, structures and any number of tactile, 3-dimensional bells and whistles I can get my hands on that I can apply to a brand.
But, there’s no question that I have very fond memories of “growing up brand”, if you will.
Given that we are now literally flooded with messages from every conceivable venue, it’s clear that there were not all that many delivery systems in those days. Just stop for a moment and imagine what your life would be like without the Internet. (Okay, you can peel yourself off the floor now.)
In a nutshell, you had TV, print, radio and the guy with the sandwich board. Advertising was king, packaging the queen and a single advertiser sponsored an entire show. No Tang and no Pop Tarts meant no Star Trek, no I Dream of Jeannie and no Beverly Hillbillies (speaking of which, I still refer to a pool as “cement pond” now and then).
Tang was considered a reasonable alternative to orange juice. Pop Tarts was a breakfast food and a Swanson TV Dinner was a perfectly acceptable meal alternative on a Friday night. And for dessert: Jello with bananas, in that mold that looked like a flying saucer. Damn, was that good! Cereal boxes had toys inside them, for god’s sake, and this was back when you had to go to a toy store to get a toy! Kraft Mac & Cheese was and still is its own food group; no other brand to this day can come close to the original Kraft Mac and Cheese. It’s like Coke. You just can’t duplicate that taste.
My mom read all the magazines, and I would frequently find her in the kitchen, experimenting with any number of recipe clippings. To my father’s old country palate, this was sacrilege. He wanted meat and potatoes. But mothers of the Sixties, much like mothers of today, were looking to streamline the process any way they could. So I ate my share of potatoes au gratin; thank you Betty Crocker. Don’t get me wrong. There were no microwaves in that day, so cooked meals were the rule rather than the exception, although breakfast was more than likely Sugar Pops and Frosted Flakes. Sugar was not a dirty word back then, and frozen pizza was a revelation akin to the invention of the wheel. I confess that my favorite was the Swanson Fried Chicken TV Dinner: all that goodness in an aluminum tray with perfect little compartments, plus you had to remember to fold over the ends on the potatoes and chicken so that they would brown. Pure genius! In 1968, this was good stuff, my friend. Don’t make a face. If you’ve ever eaten a chicken MacNugget or a mozzarella stick you have no right to criticize.
Yeah, back in the good ole days, you could always depend on your brands to deliver. So while we discuss brands as if they are living, breathing entities and deconstruct them and critique and obsess about them, for me brands have always been about trust, starting back when I was a kid. That’s the emotional connection for me. And in a universe that is largely indifferent to us here on this little blue planet, it’s nice to know that when I open up a pack of PopTarts (and yes, I occasionally still do), or share some Kraft Mac and Cheese with my kid, I can still get that warm feeling I had when I was a mere 10 year old, back in the stone age of 1968.