Hidden in the backstreets of Notting Hill is the “Museum of Brands, Packaging and Advertising“, a place probably better described as the Museum of Everything or a trip down memory lane. It has long been one of those places that I have intended to visit, as well as ought to have seen (given my job description) that having finally been on a drizzly Sunday afternoon feels something of an achievement. Like many of these spontaneous cultural jaunts, I went alone – in hindsight thankfully, as I slowly and haltingly paced my way through the 1850s to today.
To get a visual idea of the museum it is best to picture the home of a kleptomaniac married to a hoarder – items pile the exhibition spaces; food with sell-by-dates long gone, toys without batteries and tea-towels for every royal occasion. Short placards mark key events: the invention of monopoly and the metaphoric rise of the Thunderbirds being the two that come to mind. Nevertheless, despite or perhaps in spite of the museum’s attempt to selectively objectify the centuries into consumerist and collectable gems or decaying sweets and dated taglines, it is difficult not to ponder over how much life has changed. Ultimately the exhibition highlights the significance of brands in this Victoriana to 21st Century transformation, with only the Toblerone prism and a can of Bovril showing an unusual resilience to the world going on around them.
I found it fascinating to deduce each brand or object’s historical context from its ailing appearance or battered packaging – key events and cultural values inscribed in each branding and advertising detail. Notably, I enjoyed how I was cajoled from feelings of patrioticism to defending women’s rights as the Industrial Revolution, wars and royal weddings took place. The museum positioned brands as “a constant friend”, a companion to recount memories with and trust; and it was subsequently refreshing, if not a bit nostalgic, to see brands being painted in such a favourable and devout light. For example, the widespread availablity of cleaning products improving living conditions and public health, or the hoover relieving the demands on household staff. Nevertheless, it did raise the awkward question of what brands deliver today? As consumer loyalty towards certain brands becomes questionable, will we be umm-ing and aww-ing in the Museum of Brands of the future in quite the same way? Answers on the back of a 1950s seaside postcard if you please.