The origins of the world's most beloved brands.
20.10.23 | By Kimberley Killender | opinion
The origins of the world's most beloved brands.
Let's take a trip down marketing memory lane.
Every brand started somewhere. Some in garages, or at kitchen tables. Others with a cool half-million loan from Daddy. No matter how they began, here are the brands that didn't just start; they erupted, skyrocketed, and occasionally stumbled their way into our hearts, wallets, and day-to-day lives.
Once upon a time, in a garage far, far away (Cupertino, California), Steve Jobs and Steve Wozniak decided to start a small company called Apple. They built their first computer, the Apple I, by hand. Fast forward to today, and Apple has become the tech equivalent of royalty. With innovation that has changed how we communicate, work, listen to music, and create, their products are constantly evolving. (Even though the last 5 iPhones seem identical to me personally.) Impressively, the brand has maintained the same apple-shaped logo silhouette since the beginning, with the exception of an incredibly brief stint with a hand-drawn logo of Sir Isaac Newton.
The MAC vs PC ads. They started a cultural debate that we're still having, whilst successfully positioning Mac as the cooler option, without seeming like they were punching down.
In 1964, Phil Knight and Bill Bowerman founded Blue Ribbon Sports, which later became Nike. Their big break? Waffle iron-inspired running shoes. Nike's swoosh logo is now one of the most recognized symbols on the planet, and they've transformed into a sports and lifestyle giant, outfitting athletes and the fashion-forward alike.
The key to Nike's success is that it doesn't just sell sportswear. It sells potential, inspiration, and possibility. Whilst it dresses the world's top athletes, it also talks to the everyman, saying that greatness isn't something we're born with, it's something we work towards. Nike encourages you to give it a go, and champions small, everyday victories.
"Just Do It." What a tagline. Inspirational, actionable, and scalable. The phrase, created for a campaign in 1988, kickstarted an upward trajectory for the then-much-smaller sportswear brand that would go on to explode in the 90's.
Another garage glow-up fairytale (although, with a 250k parental investment) Amazon was once just an online bookstore started by Jeff Bezos, run out of his garage. It sold the world's largest collection of books to anyone with World Wide Web access. From there, it moved from an online bookstore to an online everything store and is now an e-commerce behemoth that delivers everything from groceries to gadgets to your doorstep before you can blink. As of 2023, Amazon is the world's largest online retailer outside of China, and the second-largest private employer in the United States.
The Kindle. Whilst others did it first (sorry Sony), the Kindle was the first eBook to truly make eReaders commonplace. Amazon released the first Kindle on November 19, 2007, and it sold out in 5.5 hours. It remained sold out for five months until late April 2008.
The story of LEGO is a tale of Danish ingenuity. What started in 1932 as a small carpentry business making wooden toys has since become a global empire of interlocking plastic bricks. The clever bricks allowed for endless creativity and construction, which became the cornerstone of the LEGO empire. LEGO has transcended generations, sparking creativity and imagination worldwide. Over the years, they've introduced themed sets, such as Star Wars and Harry Potter, and sets that basically need a formal qualification to build, such as the 5-foot-tall Eiffel Tower set. They've also expanded their brand from blocks to blockbusters, with a range of movies, TV shows, and other media created around the imagined world of Lego.
The Lego Movie. Aggressively self-aware, cheerfully-dystopian, and dripping in nostalgia, the movie is genuinely funny, whilst still being weirdly wholesome. The movie's popularity and its creativity-inspiring messaging led to a 15% increase in sales worldwide.
Speaking of Lego, did you know Google’s first ever server was built from it? It wasn’t the only thing that was a little odd about the beginning of Google. For one, their original name was actually BackRub. Can you imagine saying “I don't know, I’ll BackRub it”?
The company’s two founders, students at the time, disagreed about everything they discussed the first time they met. But over the next year, a partnership grew, alongside an idea for a research project: could they build a search engine that used links to determine the importance of individual pages on the World Wide Web? Obviously, the answer was yes.
Google Doodles. Originally used as a way to tell searchers that the Google team were playing hooky and going to Burning Man, these whimsical doodles started showing up for all sorts of occasions. From celebrating holidays like Halloween and International Cat Day, to paying tribute to historical legends and groundbreaking discoveries, Google Doodles were an immediate hit, with users loving the playful and unexpected touch it added to the famously minimalist Google homepage.
If you're feeling nostalgic for Doodles from the past, Google even has an archive, so you can go back and admire the art, or even play Googles best Doodle ever: PAC-MAN's 30th birthday.
Dr. Pemberton, a local pharmacist, created the syrup for Coca‑Cola, carried a jug of his new product down the street to Jacobs' Pharmacy, where it was sampled, pronounced "excellent", and placed on sale for five cents a glass as a soda fountain drink. Its name came from the simple thought that “two Cs would look well together in advertising”, and the name and subsequent iconic script were penned by Dr. Pemberton’s bookkeeper.
Of course, the original formula was considered medicinal and had a hefty amount of cocaine in it. But since then, it has grown to have some of the most iconic packaging and branding on the planet, and its advertising even helped form the standard image of the fat, jolly Santa we know and love today. They also took the cocaine out.
The Share A Coke campaign. A campaign dreamt up down under, and that ended up in 70 countries globally, the campaign simply swapped out their branding on bottles and cans with the 150 most popular names in Australia. The campaign tapped so perfectly into our psychological need for recognition and uniqueness that we spent a whole summer desperately searching through fridges, desperately trying to find a bottle with your name on it.
In 1937, the McDonald brothers started a hot dog stand together. In 1940, they opened a BBQ restaurant, and by 1948, they’d turned it into a hamburger and milkshake restaurant, removed waiters and waitresses in lieu of a self-service collection counter, and created the model for the fast food industry. Just casually. Its iconic Golden Arches are said to be the most recognized symbol in the world, even ahead of the cross, and adorn over 40,000 restaurants worldwide. Not bad for a humble roadside hot dog stand.
A 20 pack of McNuggets after a night out. And Grimace's return via the Grimace birthday celebration campaign this year.
As a branding agency, we know the power of a good origin story. Sure, not every brand gets to become Apple or Nike. But here are three lessons we can learn from the big guys.
You do not have to be married to your name or logo. Even McDonalds doesn't shy away from rebranding. So if your brand feels more vintage than visionary, it might be time for a rebrand. We can help with that.
You're actually not selling a product, you're selling a lifestyle choice. Are you selling running shoes, or are you selling the idea of pushing boundaries and achieving greatness? Are you selling smartphones, or are you selling the promise of a more connected and creative life?
Don't be afraid to take risks. Just because something has always worked, doesn't mean that's how you have to do it. These brands didn't achieve greatness by playing it safe.