The Origins of Branding.

In researching the history of branding, it became very clear that the subject has been tackled by many learned historians and even more designers alike, with almost every article I could find creating a branding history timeline, how the word originates from Old Norse, the ancient North Germanic language from which modern Scandinavian languages derived. The word ‘brandr’ means ‘a piece of burning wood’ and cites cattle branding in 2000BC.

These articles are very interesting, and I would encourage you to check them out; a great example is this one

For me, history isn’t just stating the dates, the who and where – I want to learn from it, so here we answer: What is branding?

History of branding cattle

That is mine and not yours. It seems like a simple solution to establishing ownership of livestock that tend to move from place to place. Every animal with this unique mark is the property of the same person, whether that mark was made with tar, paint or later by burning. In ancient Egypt, some hieroglyphs clearly show animals branded in this way.

But whatever the practical purpose, its intent is to differentiate mine from yours and me from you. This basic human need to define property and ownership can be traced back to the earliest tribes and their need to create a unified identity that differentiated them from other tribes.

History of brand purpose

Why is branding important? The desire to differentiate between and denote ownership is the motivation for brand purpose.

Ownership works both ways in owning or being owned, a brand’s basic function was to clearly define ownership, but it was also capable of reflecting quality or value. Overtime branding was used in other trades to denote ownership, from potters and blacksmiths to masons and artists. The concept of branding to reflect more than just ownership only started to take off in the mid-1700s with the industrial revolution and the mass production of manufactured goods.

What is branding in business?

Consumers now had a choice of products, and there was a need to be able to tell them apart. Manufacturers now need to differentiate their products to consumers with a low level of literacy and education.

Brands and logo designs were quite basic but allowed the link between printed and spoken promotion to be linked to the product.

Whilst some became synonymous with a particular trade or sector, barbershop poles are a good example.


Branding became the best way not only to identify what a product or service was, it became a way to instill value and virtues to the product that differentiated it from its competitors. This saw the birth of many brand identities we still recognise today.

Brand identity examples

Many of the most globally recognised brands today started as small independent companies that prospered, partly down to the power of their brand identities.

These brands span generations and have grown and evolved as their market and customers changed. Probably one of the best brand identity examples to use is that of Coca-Cola.


Their website outlines the creation of this globally recognised brand in 1887 by:

Thinking that “the two Cs would look well in advertising,” Dr Pemberton’s partner and bookkeeper, Frank M. Robinson, suggested the name and penned the now famous trademark “Coca-Cola” in his unique script.

The first newspaper ad for Coca-Cola soon appeared in The Atlanta Journal, inviting thirsty citizens to try “the new and popular soda fountain drink.” Hand-painted oilcloth signs reading “Coca-Cola” appeared on store awnings, with the suggestion “Drink” added to inform passersby that the new beverage was for soda fountain refreshment.

During the first year, sales averaged a modest nine drinks per day.


What is branding in marketing?

The above extract demonstrates how a brand is created and effectively applied to marketing & promotion.

Using branding to improve marketing is now a given, but it is interesting to see how this concept originated. Staying with Coca-Cola as an example, we can see that its initial brand identity needed to evolve as advertisers, signwriters, and others started to recreate the handwritten script.

The various versions created and printed ads using COCA-COLA rather than the logo led to the need to formalise the brand identity and apply for trademark protection in 1893. This saw the growth of the brand that we recognise today.

What is the future of branding?

Who knows? But I am sure, like me, you are very interested to see what happens. In the last couple of years, branding has changed, with people exploring how brands need to be adaptable and responsive. One example is Joe Harrison, who investigated responsive logos for use online, the image below illustrates the nature of his thesis.

This need for brands to work online on various platforms of different sizes has forced them to evolve and re-consider their brand identities and how they are used. The need to engage customers on social media has forced many brands to evaluate this element of their identity and develop new assets for these channels.

responsive logos

Is your brand identity adaptable?

If you are a brand owner, does your brand work well on all platforms? Could you benefit from updating your corporate identity guidelines to ensure your identity stands the test of time and communicates the right messages to your customers?

Toast has been creating, managing and evolving brands and their logos for more than 20 years. Over that time, we have helped our clients maintain and grow their brands, whatever sector they operate in and whichever channels they engage.

Do you need help with your branding?

If you are concerned that your corporate identity isn’t as defined as it should be or letting you down on social media – talk to us today and we can help.