Signs of Life

Paleontologists track the evolution of species, marketers track the evolution of brands.

For one it is an ancient record cast in stone, for the other it is a much more recent record cast in the cultural media of our time . . . film, TV, music, or advertising. And as both paleontologists and marketers know, explosive growth is cyclical, and only happens when environmental conditions are right.

Sean B. Carroll in a piece today in the NY Times discusses the Ediacaran Period, from 635 to 542 million years ago, a newly labeled period of somewhat more subdued growth just before the Cambrian Explosion, roughly 542 to 490 million years ago, long known for its abundant growth in life forms.

My reading of the article suggests that these two periods have a lot in common with the mid 20th century, just before and just after World War II.

The period just before the war, and the 1930s great depression, has been thought by many as being somewhat devoid of new life forms, from a brand perspective. Not even close to approaching the explosive growth of the post-war period. However, with events like the end of Prohibition, and the related growth in alcoholic beverage brands, or the introduction of the LP record and the growth of the record industry, we are only now beginning to recognize it as a time of important growth in certain areas of brand design.

This apparently is somewhat like the comparison made by paleontologists to the Cambrian, with its dramatic growth and the period that preceded it, the Ediacaran Period, which now appears to be more productive than first thought.

Along came the Cambrian Period, with its explosion of species, which flourished because of a confluence of positive environmental changes for the origin of life. Just as the number of consumer product brands exploded in the 1950s. When brands like Marlboro, Minute Rice and Mr. Clean were fed and supported by the growth in mass media, TV, the interstate highway system, suburbia, family formation, the modern kitchen, and other cultural experiences unique to the time period.

Paleontologists and marketers have more in common than they may think. Species and brands seem to both go through cyclical periods of growth and success.


About Richard Shear

designer, husband, teacher, blogger, father, athlete, author, historian Richard has over 25 years of brand identity and package design experience, with a wide range of clients such as Ahold, Coca-Cola, Hasbro, IBM, Johnson & Johnson, Pernod Ricard and Procter & Gamble. He began his career working with the legendary advertising art director, and AIGA Medalist, George Lois and the British design manager Clive Chajet. In his next design management position at Lippincott & Margulies, he worked with Walter Margulies learning the complex skills of global corporate identity. He then became Creative Director and Partner at Peterson & Blyth, one of the premier brand identity and package design firms of the time. He is a founding faculty member of the Masters in Branding Program at New York’s School of Visual Arts. He publishes the blog The Package Unseen, and has been a guest lecturer at colleges including FIT, Trinity College and Tyler School of Art. He is a graduate of the Tyler School of Art at Temple University. Richard is a Board member of the AIGA MetroNorth Chapter, past President of AIGA‘s Brand Design Association, President of the Package Design Council and a member of its Board of Directors. He is a member of USA Cycling and US Rowing, a nationally ranked masters bicycle racer, and a member of The Saugatuck Rowing Club, the 2010 Masters Club National Champion.
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