The Evolution of Branding

Posted on January 21, 2020 | Updated on January 6, 2021

The idea of branding has changed over time as technology, population and society moved forward. The evolution of branding could be probably traced back as far as the distinctive style of cave wall art drawn by our ancestors or to the local general store with displays of the most popular products of the 1800s. But as we know it today started with advertisements in magazines and signs along the roadways. Brands have always looked for a way to gain an edge over the competition and develop a loyal following.

In a survey of more then 350,000 peoples about 1,800 brands, Havas Group discovered consumers wouldn’t care if 77% of brands died today. Knowing how little customers care about the organizations they interact with highlights how important branding is and why marketers need to know how branding has changed over time. Understanding where we’ve come from allows us to move forward into a new digital age with confidence and ease.

Let’s start in the 1940s and take a look at the evolution of branding, gleaning wisdom from each decade:


Our look at the evolution of branding starts in the 1940s. The radio was a popular form of reaching the public as well as catalogs and some print magazines. Developing a brand image may not have been quite as challenging as it is today because there was far less competition. People couldn’t start a website in their college dorm room and turn it into a multi-billion dollar empire.

It was a different time in our country and people were supporting the war effort as much as possible. There were some iconic brands founded in this decade, such as Best Western, McDonald’s and Paper Mate.

Courtesy of Vintage Ad Browser

In this vintage 1940s Campbell’s Soup ad, you can see the impact of the war on the branding of the day. Campbell’s highlights a young man in his military clothes and shows his mother serving him soup. The focus was on comforting and supporting the soldiers.

Courtesy of Old Car Advertising

By 1949, the war was over and the country was starting to rebound. Branding switched more to looking for comfort as can be seen in the focus of this Ford-Monarch ad. Note the branding about riding like a king and the luxury of the car. Throughout the ad, Monarch is branded with words associated with royalty, such as “king,” “regal” and “admiration.”

1940s Takeaway: Today’s marketers should take note of how advertisers in the 1940s tapped into the concerns of the time.


The postwar economy was booming by the 1950s. The evolution of branding began to really take off as more Americans began buying homes, cars and products. Television entered homes and TV advertising took off, allowing brands to reach consumers in their homes daily. By the end of the decade, TV commercials reached 90% of homes in the country.

Understand the time period as you look at the sample ads below. Women usually didn’t work but cared for the home and children. Some things seem offensive through today’s lens such as the little woman serving the man, but were more acceptable at the time or at least overlooked. Advertisers began to use demographics to target their ads.

Courtesy of Flashbak

Note the focus on the little housewife using the washer and how her washdays are so much better now. While an ad with this message probably wouldn’t go over today, the average woman who was a housewife in the 50s may have taken note.

Courtesy of Business Insider

Pepsi-Cola created some elegant ads showing things such as people at parties or arranging flowers, but the roles of the men and women are still very traditional.

1950s Takeaway: Think about what might be seen as offensive in the future. Your brand will be around for years. You don’t want to have to backpedal.


The 1960s were seen as the era of the ad man. Shows such as “Mad Men” highlight the creativity of the era. Things were still ticking along pretty nicely with the American economy. Though society was shifting a little at a time, things were simple and happy. It wouldn’t be until later in the 60s that protests began to erupt and new trends enter the market. Television advertising became prevalent and midcentury modern art grew in popularity.

Some major shifts in the country started in the 1960s. In 1960, John F. Kennedy was elected president. Not only was he the youngest president in history, but he was the first Catholic president. In 1963, Martin Luther King Jr. gave his “I Have a Dream” speech in Washington, D.C. Many of the baby boomers who were born in the 50s were now in their teens and they were ready for things to change. Advertising had to change with it. The 1960s brought radical changes to the evolution of branding.

Companies wanted to connect with youth, so they looked for ways to tap into their audience more than ever before and find unique ways to make their products stand out from the competition.

Courtesy of Thrillist

McDonald’s focuses on having a good time and eating out. Since there weren’t as many fast-food franchises yet, they didn’t yet need to differentiate themselves as much from the competition. They could just focus on attracting a younger crowd.

Courtesy of Pixel 77

Note the shift from the woman serving the man food to the couple working on something together and sitting down for a quick bowl of cereal. The entire tone of the ad shifts to embrace the younger generation and pull them into the branding focus.

1960s Takeaway: Figure out who your target audience is and how you can connect with them without offending future generations.


Time marched on quickly in the evolution of branding and the 1970s arrived with a youth that was dissatisfied with the slow pace of change. Music changed, fashion changed and advertising changed. A recession started but by the end of the decade, advertising would take off and become a $28 billion industry. Ads became commonplace and in color as televisions now were.

Something new advertisers began was subliminal messaging but the public didn’t like it and it may have harmed the image of brands more than helping them.

Courtesy of Flashbak

Ads of the 70s took on sexual undertones. The subliminal messaging in this ad is that if you have shag carpeting a sexy woman will lounge on it in a suggestive pose.

Courtesy of Pinimg

This Chic jeans ad is from 1978. While not as in your face with sexuality as some other ads of the error, the subtle implication is that people will see you as sexy if you wear these jeans.

1970s Takeaway: For the modern era, the public is onto your subliminal messages. Leave them out and go for honesty instead.


Through the 1980s, smaller advertising agencies got gobbled up by the big players. Technology created big changes in the evolution of branding in the 1980s with things such as MTV and CNN launched. Cable TV became available in the early 80s, expanding the reach of television advertising and of choices consumers had of what to watch.

The introduction of the VCR allowed people to record their shows and fast forward through commercials. It became more important than ever to establish an image in the first few seconds of a commercial. Some commercials were so entertaining, they’ve become iconic, such as Wendy’s “Where’s the Beef?” commercials. People longed for a return to simpler times, but they also liked their modern conveniences, something advertisers struggled to balance. Advertisers began to present unique value propositions (UVPs), showing how their products were different.

Courtesy of ebay

This Maybelline Shine Free ad highlights the styles of the era. It also shows why their product is unique. It is a certain look. A dewy freshness and they want to highlight how can have it, too.

Courtesy of Mashable

This ad for the Commodore 64 highlights the newest technology of the time. It also uses UVP to highlight why you should buy their system and the advantages.

1980s Takeaway: Highlight what is unique and valuable about your product over your competitor’s product.


The evolution of branding is best seen by looking at decades and this was especially true shifting from the 1980s to the 1990s. Generation X walked into adulthood and they were very different than any generation before them. Sandwiched between the Baby Boomers and Millennials, they had a lot of doubt about advertising and weren’t as inclined to believe whatever they were told. Honesty and integrity became more and more important in creating a positive brand image.

Courtesy of CNN

Milk’s mustache campaign introduced an era of more and more celebrity endorsements. This was the influencer advertising of this era.

Courtesy of Advertising Archives

Kids of the 80s were now adults and suddenly had more choices than ever before and they demanded more personalized options. This ad showing some color choices for Mac computers is a perfect example.

1990s Takeaway: Pay attention as generations change and new trends emerge. Technology often has the biggest impact on what consumers expect.


The 2000s arrived without nearly as much fanfare as expected. People who thought computers might melt down as a century shifted found that technology easily kept up. Things such as early digital advertising arrived on the scene and marketers had to figure out how to reach people on an entirely new medium that seemed to adapt and change almost daily.

By 2006, digital ads become more targeted and social media giants such as Facebook start collecting all kinds of information on users’ buying habits. Spam becomes an issue and it impacts how legitimate companies need to community with their audiences.

Courtesy of AdPushup

The first spam ad is sent out in the 2000s and thus begins a greater divide between brands and consumers. This may harken back to the reason why people wouldn’t care if most brands disappeared. The public begins disconnecting with companies.

Courtesy of WGNO

Celebrity endorsements are still important, but pop stars and Hollywood elite trend in ads such as this one. The idea is that if the buyer likes the celebrity they will want to try the product.

2000s Takeaway: You need social media to complete your brand in the 21st century.


The 2010s at first glance haven’t brought many changes to advertising, but nothing could be further. In the last several years alone, advances in artificial intelligence (AI) and augmented reality (AR) have changed how online brands interact with their customers. Ads are much more highly targeted than ever before, because we have tons of data and information about how people interact with brands, search for information online and can even track their spending habits. Personalization is the name of the game in today’s evolution of branding.

Courtesy of AdAge

Chipotle decided to reward their customers for having knowledge about the industry instead of for visits. They created a commercial in 2011 and show it in about 5,700 movie theaters in the United States. The commercial is animated and shows a farmer’s process and ends with the tagline “cultivate a better world.”

Courtesy of Facebook

Sephora used Facebook’s mobile ads feature to deliver customized ads to the appropriate audiences. The brand chose to show ads to those who looked at items on their website but then didn’t make a purchase, giving them a second chance at making a sell.

2010s Takeaway: Use current technology to reach your intended audience and don’t be afraid to try something new.

2020s Predictions

How might the evolution of branding shift even more moving into the new century’s Roaring 20s? Expect technology to grow at an even faster pace than in any decade before. As the Internet of Things (IoT) takes over more and more daily tasks, branding may become more automated. Companies will reach out to customers automatically, leaving only the creative side of campaigns for marketers to deal with.

People are more socially conscious than at any other point in history and they all have an opinion. Expect people to reward the brands who are known for doing good things and helping others while steering away from controversial topics and politics. Tomorrow’s marketers will have to be easily adaptable in an ever-changing world.

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