Magazine article Marketing

Profile: Brand Curator - Robert Opie, Director, Museum of Brands, Packaging and Advertising

Magazine article Marketing

Profile: Brand Curator - Robert Opie, Director, Museum of Brands, Packaging and Advertising

Article excerpt

Did you know Bird's Custard has no eggs in it as it was invented by a man whose wife could not digest eggs? Or that most of our oldest food brands were first sold on their functional health benefits from behind a chemist's counter?

Robert Opie does - and he also has a million other insights into the history of British brands. Starting in his teens, he has amassed a huge collection of packaging dating from Victorian times. A mere 3% of it forms London's new Museum of brands, packaging and advertising, which opens this week.

Even after 40 years of buying products deemed significant enough - 'I have a story of the yoghurt market that stretches back to the 60s, although I haven't really kept tabs on shampoos as I should have' - Opie retains a boyish excitement about what these pots, packs and products represent. 'Look at this ... the first gramophone. Can you imagine how exciting it was for people to hear the king's voice for the first time?' he asks.

Opie considers himself a social historian, using his collection to help arrange the world of the past and present. He is less interested in their commercial implications than what they tell about people's lives.

'It's about bringing together the pieces of a jigsaw until you see the big picture of social change,' he says.

This is why his home has always been crammed with packaging ephemera; it contains three-quarters of a mile of shelving to accommodate the packs and pictures that appear in every room. 'I need to see it all out there so I can make the connections between things, compare them and come to conclusions.'

Much as some people use stereotypes to distil the world into manageable patterns, Opie uses the objects in his collection to research the mundane but far-reaching details of how people used to live.

A knowledge of where we come from, both socially and in terms of the individual progression of brands, is vital for planning, believes Opie.

'Brand managers tend to be bright people,' he says. 'But if they can't appreciate the importance of their brand's history, they're not qualified to be in charge of them.'

This week's opening of the museum in Notting Hill, London, is the culmination of a life's work for Opie. It has been four years since his collection's last home, a building at Gloucester docks, was taken from him when the lease ended. …

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