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Yet it’s a word with humble origins. In Anglo-Saxon times, a ‘brand’ was a piece of burning wood from the hearth. By the 16th century, it meant a mark made by burning with a hot iron. Animals were branded to show ownership, but so were humans; branding criminals became illegal only in 1822. The first commercial use of the word came in 1827, in reference to a trade name burnt onto boxes. The word spread from the mark to the thing marked, as people began to ask for their ‘usual brand’. Modern concepts of ‘brand’ developed in the mid-20th century: ‘brand loyalty’, ‘brand identity’, ‘brand awareness’ …
Now we speak of ‘brand image’, the impression a product creates in the minds of potential consumers; the idea was enthusiastically promoted in the late 1950s by the ad giant David Ogilvy, and is now the responsibility of ‘brand managers’. It’s not a ‘brand-new’ title: the first were appointed in the US in the ’40s.