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  • Writer's pictureSara-Jane Armstrong, MA

A Brief Guide to the Museum of Brands in London

What is the Museum of Brands?

The Museum of Brands is a Museum in London that celebrates the history of British products, charting 200 years of ‘social change, culture and lifestyle through brands, packaging and advertising.

Museum of Brands entrance

Museum of Brands, CC BY-SA 4.0, via Wikimedia Commons

The Museum of Brands celebrates artistry inspired by consumerism. Structured as a time tunnel, the museum serves as a passage through British history, as glimpsed through images of its most iconic brands. Beginning in the Victorian era, the journey starts in an age of mass industrialisation and the birth of modern mass-market consumerism. Some of the most significant – and turbulent – moments in British history, are demonstrated in the ways they influenced British commercial branding.

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A Brief Tour of the Museum of Brands

There was the advent of mass transportation. The British myth of the heroic explorer began to possess the commercial imagination, as the excitement of travelling was given a commercial counterpart through the introduction of transport. In the ‘golden age of travel’, railways, buses, and ocean liners carried away Britons of the 19th and 20th centuries. Of course, the companies that oversaw them vied for supremacy. Every country seeking tourism designed elaborate advertisement campaigns, including (in the UK’s case) the iconic illustrated ‘visit’ poster series, examples of which have been displayed here in the museum.

Then came the wars. Decades of suffering befell Britain under the weight of two World Wars. Brands adapted, or they died. New brands became iconic, with the tinned meats and meagre canned meals that were doled out over ration counters becoming nostalgic remnants of wartime Britain. The museum explores how consumerism was forced to change and innovate in an era of turmoil and threadbare productivity.

In the early 20th century suffrage was gradually extended to women and working-class men. Increased financial freedom gave women across the UK influence in commercial circles, and afforded them autonomy in their purchases; brands adapted accordingly. Marketing to independent women, brands bought into the new age of individual choice.

In the 1950s and ‘60s, commercial advertising achieved a scale which once was inconceivable. 1955 saw the launch of ITV, the first commercial channel, and the very first TV advertisement (although not many were able to see it, given that only 100,000 people could receive the ad on their special TV set). In time brands were blaring into many homes, thrusting their fingers through tightened purse strings. Much of the museum’s eclectic collection is dedicated to this early age of advertising and mass media, exploring how iconic brands established themselves as household names. However, the time tunnel also charts their development through the ensuing decades and into the digital age.

Founded in 2002, the museum houses more than 12,000 items. It specialises in celebrating and contextualising the everyday, the seemingly banal products that have come to define generations of modern consumerism.

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