Washington, Feb 15 : It has been long believed that the concept of commodity branding was born in the West with the Industrial Revolution. But a new study has challenged the notion, by revealing that the idea of brands far predates modern capitalism, and in fact modern Western society.
In an article entitled "Prehistories of Commodity Branding," study author David Wengrow, lecturer at the Institute of Archaeology, University College London, has challenged the common assumption that branding did not become an important force in social and economic life until the Industrial Revolution.
Wengrow has presented convincing evidence that labels on ancient containers, which have long been assumed to be simple identifiers, as well as practices surrounding the production and distribution of commodities, actually functioned as branding strategies.
In addition, these strategies have deep cultural origins and cognitive foundations, beginning in the civilizations of Egypt and Iraq thousands of years ago.
Commodity branding attained significance when large-scale economies started mass-producing goods such as alcoholic drinks, cosmetics and textiles.
According to Wengrow, ancient societies not only imposed strict forms of quality control over these commodities, but as today they needed to convey value to the consumer.
He found that commodities in any complex, large society needed to pass through a "nexus of authenticity."
Through history, these have taken the form of "the bodies of the ancestral dead, the gods, heads of state, secular business gurus, media celebrities, or that core fetish of post-modernity, the body of the sovereign consumer citizen in the act of self-fashioning," he said.
Although capitalism and branding find in each other a perfect complement, they have distinct origins, Wengrow explained.
He said that branding has for millennia filled a deep-seated need for us humans to find value in the goods that we consume.
The study is published in the February 2008 issue of Current Anthropology.