Close-Up: Newsmaker - The curator of 3,000 years of consumerism

campaignlive.co.uk, Friday, 09 December 2005 12:00AM

Robert Opie, the founder the newly opened Museum of Brands, Packaging and Advertising, shows James Hamilton around.

A word of warning: don't visit the Museum of Brands, Packaging and Advertising unless you've got several hours to spare. For a smallish space, it takes a long time to wander round, particularly when its founder, Robert Opie, is your guide. His collection is vast, reeks of nostalgia and is more than a little addictive.

The museum, which opened in its new home in Notting Hill on Thursday last week, is the result of 40 years' collecting and cataloguing on Opie's part. He's the UK's foremost curator of branding and advertising ephemera.

Strolling through the Victorian and Edwardian sections of the museum, Opie tells the story he's recounted hundreds of times: he was a peckish 16-year-old sitting on a platform at Inverness station. He'd just bought a 7d pack of Munchies and some ginger biscuits, when the thought struck him that someone ought to be collecting packaging for posterity. "When I started collecting 40 years ago, I didn't realise how much of my life would be devoted to it," he says.

He still has the Munchies and biscuits, but the collection has now swelled to more than 12,000 pieces, which are testament to 3,000 years of consumerism: Opie has a persuasive argument that Caesar was a big a brand in ancient Rome as Beckham is today.

Opie's museum spent 17 years in Gloucester before he was forced to find a new home. In stepped Chris Griffin, the PI3 chairman (and now the museum's chief executive). Griffin had both the space and the passionate interest in branding to work with Opie, and the pair set about creating a new home for the collection next to the PI3 office.

They didn't expect the process to take four years, though. Part of that time has been spent getting sponsors on board - the museum is privately financed and has received no Lottery cash. So far, most of the cash backing the project has come from brands themselves - sponsors include Kellogg, Cadbury, Twinings, United Biscuits and Nestle; while Sir Martin Sorrell and the History of Advertising Trust are among the industry figures and bodies lending support.

"The funders have come in because they've seen what the collection can and should do for their industries. It's a record of what they've been doing forever. The sort of message that worked for promoting this new museum to them is around training for brand managers, designers and creatives," Griffin says. "The e-mails are starting to pile up, with people asking 'can I bring my team here?'"

What started out as an obsession with packaging has expanded to include all forms of brand communication. Opie and Griffin are looking to install TVs in the sections covering the 50s to the present, so the museum can show historic ads relevant to the brands on show. So you'll get BMP's famous Smash "Martians" ad next to an authentic packet of instant mash from the 70s; CDP's hilarious Parker Pens "finishing school" spot starring Penelope Keith next to a rolled gold ballpoint pen. Currently, these are relegated to a screen in the cafe, but the will and the scope are both there to make the museum a more interactive experience.

This article was first published on campaignlive.co.uk

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