chapter  4
29 Pages

Brand management

Brands have a history that goes back to long before the development of modern marketing. Historians often point to Josiah Wedgwood and his successful creation of the Wedgwood & Bentley brand of luxury china in industrializing eighteenth-century Britain (cf. Brewer and Porter eds, 1993; Wernick, 1991). In many ways, Wedgwood & Bentley anticipated the approach of contemporary brand management. Their catalogues and showrooms were designed to convey a particular ‘shopping experience’, as we would say today. In targeting the expanding middle class market they launched a line of less expensive china, that they gave the romantically suggestive name ‘Etruria’ (along with the factory that made it). Above all, they understood how to make public communication work for them. Recognizing how an expanding consumer society, and the concomitant rise of a new kind of immaterial ‘pleasures of the imagination’ (Brewer, 1997) was in the process of destabilizing the cultural boundaries between the classes, and how, consequently, the growing middle classes now sought to emulate the consumption habits of the aristocracy and the upper class, Wedgwood & Bentley invested in creating a high status image around their product. They achieved this by aggressively marketing a more exclusive line of hand-made china to aristocratic customers (often selling it below costs), by securing royal commissions, and by taking on expensive and often unprofitable special orders from aristocratic families. Once such an order had been completed, Wedgwood (who was the marketing genius) wasted no time in advertising the deed in London newspapers, directed at a middle class public. While they might have lost money on the individual vase or piece of pottery, they stood to gain much more from the publicity that such an aristocratic commission could procure: ‘The Great People have had their Vases in their Palaces long enough for them to be seen and admired by the Middling Class of People, which Class we know are vastly, I had almost

said, infinitely superior in number to the Great’.1 Recognizing that the aristocracy worked as ‘legislators in taste’ Wedgwood prepared the company’s entry on the German market by sending unsolicited packages of china to the German nobility and aristocracy. In short, Wedgwood put the aristocracy to work in producing a certain quality to be attached to the product, by giving it a place in the shared meanings and social relations that formed their now more visible lifeworld. Wedgwood was conscious of the fact that this socially constructed ‘aura’ might be as valuable as the material qualities of the product:

How much of this general use, & estimation [of our china across the world], is owing to the mode of its introduction & how much to its real utility and beauty? are questions in which we may be a good deal interested for the government of our future Conduct. For instance, if a Royal, or Noble Introduction be necessary to the sale of an Article of Luxury, as real Elegance & beauty, then the Manufacturer, if he consults his own interest will bestow as much pains, & expense too if necessary, in gaining the former of these advantages, as he would in bestowing the latter.2