An Advertising Evolution

How did the humble advert turn into a pillar of popular culture?

From cereal packets with cartoon characters, to coronation-themed confectionary tins, this display at Cobham Library from September 2019 - February 2020 will make you marvel at the marketing of by-gone eras.

Colman's; Kellogg's; Cadbury; and Oxo: these are some of the best known food brands with, more importantly, some of the best known adverts.  Food packaging evolved beyond measure during the course of the 20th Century. 

This short online exhibition highlights the ways in which marketing underwent a revolution that completely changed the designs and advertisements for food and beverages. New packaging helped to make products stand out from those of their competitors and saw companies tapping into popular culture in order to make their brands more saleable.

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Kellogg's Coco Krispies box featuring Sweep from 'The Sooty Show', 1972.
Kellogg's Coco Krispies box featuring Sweep from 'The Sooty Show', 1972.

Cereals & Popular Culture

You are more likely to recognise this popular Kellogg’s cereal. The brand was introduced in the 1950s and initially known in the UK as ‘Coco Pops’. In the late 1960s, it underwent a name change in the UK to bring it in line with the so-called ‘Coco Krispies’ marketed in America. This box was produced in 1972 and reflects the ‘Coco Krispies’ American re-brand. However, the name change was not a success here and, by the mid 1970s, Kellogg’s reverted to calling the cereal ‘Coco Pops’.

This box was bought for just 10½p in Tesco in 1972. At such a low price, the cereal may seem like a bargain – yet inflation has meant the cereal is now sold for around twenty times this!

The front of the box features a picture of Sweep, a little dog glove puppet who is a character from the children’s TV series The Sooty Show. Sweep is shown enjoying a bowl of the chocolate-flavoured popped rice cereal. The panels on the side depict Sweep’s routine to stay healthy and explain why Coco Krispies are his favourite breakfast. The back of the box advertises free gifts which were available in every box of Coco Krispies. 

The panels on the box side depict Sweep’s routine to stay healthy and explain why Coco Krispies are his favourite breakfast. Kellogg’s used the back of the box to advertise the free gifts which were available, and the initiative of a ‘Free Crazy Canine’ encouraged shoppers with children to buy the cereal.

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Nabisco Shredded Wheat cereal box featuring Tom and Jerry cartoon, 1972.
Nabisco Shredded Wheat cereal box featuring Tom and Jerry cartoon, 1972.

The Nabisco ‘Shredded Wheat’ cereal box also uses clever marketing, this time featuring well known comic book characters ‘Tom and Jerry’. A side panel of the box says that there are three comics to collect in Shredded Wheat boxes. Sales incentives like this were common until the early 2000s.

Nabisco's Shredded Wheat is now marketed by the Swiss food giant Nestlé.


The Story of Colman's Mustard

Colman’s has been based in Norfolk since the company was founded in 1814. The company was once of the first to build schools and medical facilities into their factory setup.

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Colman's English Mustard illustrated short-story: 'The Pot of Gold at the End of the Rainbow', 1914-18
Colman's English Mustard illustrated short-story: 'The Pot of Gold at the End of the Rainbow', 1914-18.

Colman’s English Mustard packaging has changed very little for decades. The bull's head logo was invented in 1855, and the iconic yellow packaging with red text dates from 1866.

This tiny booklet titled ‘The Pot of Gold at the End of The Rainbow’ cleverly advertises Colman’s products. It is an illustrated short-story about a princess from ‘Folmania’, who must restore peace to her country by recovering the Colman’s products that were lost after a spell was cast. The back of the booklet advertises Colman’s products alongside an illustration of the cast of the story.


Celebrating National Events

Cadbury had been producing cocoa and drinking chocolate since 1824 in Birmingham, and by the 1860s, Cadbury was selling expensive boxes of luxury chocolates.

The Cadbury brand was revolutionised by the launch of Dairy Milk in 1905 and Bourneville in 1908. New marketing campaigns that helped to sell Cadbury's products were also started in the early 20th Century. The tin below is from 1953, and shows how the brand used Queen Elizabeth II’s coronation to sell a collectible product that had more value to the consumer, which the company could make more money from.

Pictured to the right of the Cadbury's tin below is an Oxo tin from 1953. This demonstrates how the brand, just like Cadbury's, also used Queen Elizabeth II’s coronation to sell a collectible tin that had more value to the consumer.

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Cadbury (left) and Oxo (right) Coronation tins, 1953.
Cadbury (left) and Oxo (right) Coronation tins, 1953.
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Oxo (left) and Bovril (right) bottles, c. late 19th Century.
Oxo (left) and Bovril (right) bottles, c. late 19th Century.

FROM TROOPS TO TABLETOP: BOVRIL BEEF & OXO CUBES

 The topic of liquid meat is not the most appetising when it comes to food, but specially marketed meat products have gained popularity with consumers over the last two centuries.

Bovril was first introduced to the market in 1886. This ‘fluid beef’ drink had been used to feed Napoleon’s army in 1871, and it quickly became popular in Britain as a drink that could provide strength. The bottle displayed on the right here shows the old style of packaging; the modern bottles are similar in shape to Marmite jars.

Oxo was created in 1840 when a German chemist invented meat extract. It was originally sold in bottles, like the one on the left in the picture opposite. It was not until 1910 that the packaging was changed and Oxo was marketed in cubes to make it more accessible to the masses.