Feature

What's the most iconic brand of the past 60 years?

The Marketing Society takes a look at six that represent six decades.

What's the most iconic brand of the past 60 years?

To celebrate The Marketing Society’s 60th anniversary, the organisation is taking a look back at the brands that left their mark in each year of the past six decades – and it wants you to vote for which you think is the most iconic.

The early period is dominated by packaged goods, the more recent years by the giants of the internet. Some will surely be thriving in another 60 years; others may disappear as quickly as they have risen.

The brands span a period of huge social change and yet a surprising number remain strong right through to today – demonstrating that good marketing and brands that adapt really can stand the test of time.

Head to the website to review the brands and place your vote. The winner will be announced at The Marketing Society’s diamond anniversary dinner on 27 November. Call 020 8973 1700 for details.

Six brands that represent six decades of marketing

1960s: Fairy Liquid

Marketing in the 1960s was all about manufacturers that owned the brand, selling via retailers that needed to put it on their shelves, to housewives who stayed at home and did the shopping and the housework. And there were only two TV channels, BBC and ITV, so everyone obediently watched "commercial television" – a lot. No wonder some commentators at the time worried about us being "brainwashed" by TV commercials. 

Practically everyone in Britain could have sung you the jingle: "Now hands that do dishes can be soft as your face with mild green Fairy Liquid."

Take a look at this TV commercial to see 1960s packaged goods marketing, as practised by its arch-exponent Procter & Gamble, at its most patronisingly effective (warning: feminists might prefer to look away now):

1970s: Sony Walkman

Sony co-founder Masaru Ibuka wanted to listen to opera more easily on his frequent business travels and asked his engineers to produce a stereo play-only portable cassette player. Introduced in the US as the Soundabout and in the UK as the Stowaway, it found fame as the Walkman and went on to liberate an entire generation of music lovers and change the listening and exercise habits of millions.

In marketing terms, the Walkman demonstrates how the identification of a consumer need can lead to a brilliant product innovation and become a global success without massive advertising – although it undoubtedly helped that Sony was already much admired as a leading electronics brand.

The Walkman also came at just the right time to catch the increasing craze for jogging – as many consumers realised that if they were going to carry on enjoying the increasingly varied pleasures on offer from wine to eating out, they were going to need to look after their waistlines. Historically, the Walkman also represents a significant shift for consumers. It was another stage in their liberation from being passive consumers of broadcast media to being controllers of their own individual entertainment.      

1980s: Nike

If the Sony Walkman encourages consumers to take control of the entertainment in their lives, Nike urges us to strive for higher levels of individual achievement. Famous sports teams do wear Nike kit, but this is a brand about, above all, individual achievement – either as a solo athlete or as the star player within a team. It is also a brand that has been built brilliantly through advertising.

The "Just do it" campaign began in 1988 and is credited to Dan Wieden, founder of Wieden & Kennedy, an agency that continues to work on Nike to this day. The very first ad shows an old man running over the Golden Gate Bridge, but he is clearly unusually determined.

Nike has combined empathising with those of us who strive (somewhat falteringly) to be fitter with spending enormous sums on the sponsorship of superstars such as Michael Jordan – who has a Nike basketball shoe named after him – and sports greats whose lives away from their sport have become at times controversial, such as Tiger Woods and Wayne Rooney. Nike’s commendable loyalty to Woods during his wilderness years was handsomely repaid when he won the Masters for the fifth time this year.

The wit, empathy and glamour of Nike advertising is a brilliant demonstration of differentiating a brand in a very crowded market where the products on offer are essentially quite mundane. Nike has been rewarded with huge competitive success and moved the brand beyond sports use alone. Wearing the brand can make even the most occasional jogger feel like they are capable of running faster.      

1990s: easyJet

EasyJet was launched in November 1995 by Stelios Haji-Ioannou using an aircraft leased from British Airways. Haji-Ioannou had studied the success of US airline Southwest and was helped by the loan of £5m from his father. Last year, easyJet carried 88 million passengers, having brought cheap air travel to a vast new market.

In one sense, very little new technology has been involved in its success; it is entirely a marketing triumph based on price. Initially, customers booked by phone and the airline’s planes ware emblazoned with the number to ring. Haji-Ioannou was at first sceptical about the value of the internet, but his staff quickly demonstrated its value in bringing in the bookings while keeping costs low, and in 1997 easyJet.com became one of the early brands of the dot-com boom and one of the few that did not subsequently go bust.

EasyJet and its UK rival Ryanair, which has grown even bigger, continue to demonstrate that price is a huge factor in consumer choice and that if a company can learn how to keep its cost base lower than traditional competitors, it is still possible to make a healthy profit. Although both airlines are currently experiencing "headwinds", easyJet made nearly €500m in profit last year and Ryanair made more than €1bn.

For the first 15 years of its life as a brand, easyJet seemed to enjoy flouting traditional marketing practice by appearing to go out of its way to ignore any sense of service to customers and run advertising that looked and sounded as cheap as the brand. However, under the leadership of Dame Carolyn McCall as chief executive, VCCP was appointed to handle advertising, punctuality was improved and the hated practice of not allocating seats – which supposedly sped up the process of boarding – came to an end. It turned out that the turnround time of planes was not affected, but of course we now have to pay to choose the seat we want.

Few consumers would describe easyJet as one of their favourite brands, but few people reading this will not have used it some time in the past year. Although Haji-Ioannou has tried to apply his "easy" brand to other fields, none has really caught on, but  easyJet is nevertheless a true disruptor and paved the way for other online brands offering significant price-saving such as Airbnb and Uber.  

2000s: Apple

The Apple Computer Company was founded in 1976 and its famous TV commercial for the Macintosh in 1984 might have guaranteed it a place in our 60 iconic brands all on its own. But in the first decade of the 21st century, Apple brought us the iPod, th iPhone and iPad, and the brand’s place in our affections was assured.

It is often pointed out that Apple is not a true innovator – having adapted and reinvented technology that was initiated elsewhere. Older marketers may even remember that the first famous brand to use this fruit was Apple Corps, the holding company for The Beatles’ records. When Steve Jobs boldly decided that Apple was a better name for his new company than something "modern" and "tech-sounding" – like everyone else in the market – he set off a legal dispute over the use of the name with Apple Corps that lasted nearly 30 years. It was only resolved in 2007, by which time Apple Computer Company had moved firmly into music.

The fact that Apple is called Apple, a name Jobs said was "fun, spirited and not intimidating", rather than some dull technical-sounding name, reflects Jobs' instinctive ability to differentiate his products and present them to the market with real style. We Brits can of course take particular pride in the 27-year contribution made to the brand by Sir Jonathan Ive, the Newcastle Polytechnic graduate whose Bauhaus-inspired "less is more" designs gave Apple such a distinctively clean and uncluttered look and feel.

Ive’s departure this year from his role as vice-president of design to set up his own company LoveFrom symbolises the change that Apple will of course now have to make. While each new product is still eagerly awaited by aficionados, conventional wisdom says that the ability of competitors to imitate its hardware means Apple will over time have to move increasingly out of products and into services if it wants to remain one of the world’s leading brands. But then following conventional wisdom is not how Apple got so big in the first place.

2010s: Netflix

Like easyJet, Netflix began life in the first dot.com boom as a DVD rental company that delivered its product to consumers through the post. Shortly after it started, it is said to have turned down an offer to buy the company for $50m from Blockbuster – the now-defunct video-rental retailer. By the second decade of the 21st century, Netflix was firmly in the vanguard of the long-forecast but slow-to-arrive video-on-demand revolution.

Netflix shares with Google the distinction of having been turned into a verb – as in "Netflix and chill". In its third decade, it really got into its stride as a provider of original content. The sums of money spent on series such as House of Cards and The Crown have been eye-watering. The latter is said to have cost $120m per series and involved the production of 7,000 costumes.

The quality and glamour of Netflix’s output have upstaged a century of traditional Hollywood filmmaking and forced consumers to look outside their comfort zone of TV channels. Although it is American in origin, Netflix is a truly global phenomenon, offering a streaming service in every country in the world except China, North Korea and Syria.

Netflix currently works on a subscription model that allows it to be advertising-free, although some ad industry pundits say it will have to change this policy as competition in the market intensifies. As a brand, it has certainly demonstrated brave leadership in speculating huge sums on the production of new and untried drama series.

The brand neatly bookends our look at six decades of marketing through iconic brands. Sixty years ago, consumers sat at home waiting for marketers to talk to them every night in their living rooms. By the 1970s, some brands had learned to do it with such charm and wit that there was a period when some viewers could be heard saying: "The ads are better than the programmes."

Today, consumers have more control over their lives and are much less enthusiastic about advertising, but brands are arguably even more important than they were 60 years ago, because they can help consumers select what they really want from a sometimes bewildering cornucopia of choice.