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A trip to the Museum of Brands, Packaging and Advertising, London

By Rach ~ Friday, 30 September 2011

The Museum, tucked away down a pretty side-street in Notting Hill, moments from the hustle and bustle of the Portobello Road, houses an astonishing collection of ephemera collected by the social historian Robert Opie. It is an extraordinary testament to the collector’s obsession, which began at the age of 16 with a packet of Munchies and now extends to thousands and thousands of items from every day life.

When the thousands of pieces of our social history are assembled into some giant jigsaw, the picture becomes clearer as to the remarkable journey we have all come through.

Robert Opie

The museum is laid out as a ‘trip down memory lane’, starting with the Victorian era and tunnelling through to the present day. The amount of items on display is almost overwhelming - every inch of the museum is filled with packages, toys, games, books and advertisements from each era. This saturation allows the visitor to become fully immersed in the style (and aspirations) of the time.

Beyond the time-tunnel is a fascinating exploration of brand. Individual items such as Johnson’s Baby Powder or Cadbury’s drinking chocolate are followed on their journeys from conception to mass-market popularity today. Interestingly, to my mind, the most successful (in terms of design) brands today have stayed very to true to their original packaging. Take Lyle’s Golden Syrup or Brasso, mental images of which are immediately conjurable to the British anyway, the packaging is almost identical to their original packaging.

To me, the early packages and branding are so appealing now because they are so much closer to the origins of the businesses, most of which started as a one-man-and-his-shop setup. They feel much more homely and honest than the filtered and filtered design of today’s mega brands. Take Kellogg’s Cornflakes. You can just about see the 50s origins in the logotype, the friendly 80s hen in the megalithic hen on the current packet but to my mind the packaging has completely lost that original homeliness and warmth. It now seems like something that is made by a corporation with marketeers and has lost the sense that this is something which is made by people and for people. As I came with the intent to get inspiration for Mr & Mrs OK, this seems like a useful thing to take away.

The Museum of Brands, Packaging and Advertising is well worth a visit, but if you can’t get there Robert Opie has edited a fantastic collection of Scrapbooks, packed, like the museum, to the rafters with images of items from each era.