Brands and ads

Before roughly the late 1800s, most people in Canada and the US bought things in bulk at a local store. People would open the barrel and look inside to check the quality of the product before buying. If they were satisfied they would ask for a particular amount of a product – for example, flour, potatoes, apples, crackers, kerosene – and the storekeeper would weigh or measure it out for them.

Several changes contributed to a shift from bulk products, to pre-packaged, brand-name products:

– It was increasingly possible to process food in factories, like any other product. Processing made the food more attractive to the consumer in some way, for instance by making it better-tasting, easier to cook, or easier to store.

– Trains and shipping meant that it was cheaper to transport goods than ever before.

– Printing had become cheap enough that newspapers and magazines (and importantly: advertisements) could reach people in all parts of society, including the working class, and the same ad could be seen all over the country.

With pre-packaged products, the customer couldn’t look in the box to check the product quality beforehand. Instead it was the brand that assured the quality of the product – as the ads continually reminded people. Ads and brands brought about a fundamental change in the way we see food. In the past milk was milk, but Nestle’s ad campaign sought to convince the public that Nestle’s Milk was something different from, and superior to, all the other brands.

Some poster advertisements from the 1800s.