What can students learn from
In today's material world, students are bombarded
with advertisements promoting the attributes of popular
brands of products they eat, drink, wear, chew or
ride in. Show them an image of Aunt Jemima or the
Quaker Oats man and visions of pancakes or a steamy
bowl of oatmeal will probably appear in their minds.
Mention the words - Coke, Jell-O or Sunkist - and
they will most likely be familiar with the products
they represent. But how do these brand names or product
icons really influence them? Do they represent the
best quality product? Should products be purchased
solely because of their names? How can we help our
students to become educated consumers?
This activity provides a historical view of some
of the brand name products familiar today. By examining
the history of these products, students can begin
to get a sense of how some of today's successful brand
names got their start. They can learn the fascinating
stories behind the product names. They can observe
how products changed over the course of history as
a response to economic, cultural or technological
influences. They can witness the adventure, creativity,
imagination, courage, persistence and frustration
exhibited in the lives of the brilliant and dedicated
men and women responsible for the success of these
products. They can investigate their own communities
to locate and share similar success stories. By studying
American brand name products from a historical point
of view, students will gain a better understanding
of the economic culture that they live in today.
How can you extend this activity
with your students?
Conduct an in-depth product
study. Explore the history of the product.
Was the product the result of an invention? Was the
product developed by one person? A family? A group
of people? Did geography affectt the development of
the product? Was it developed in an agricultural or
an industrial setting? Were natural resources involved?
What were the economic conditions of the times in
which the product was developed? How did this product
satisfy people's wants and needs? Did advertising
play a part in its success? Did the product have an
impact on the course of history? What might have happened
if the product had not been developed? Has the original
product or family of products changed or expanded
over time? To whom did the product appeal? Adults?
Children? What competitors did the product face in
the marketplace? Has technology had any impact on
the product or its usefulness?
Study how product advertisements
have changed over time. Choose a product and
locate historic and more recent advertisements. Study
the historical ads for clues and information about
life in the past. Analyze the ads in terms of target
customer (age, gender, occupation), selling points
and persuasive techniques used. Compare the ads and
note changes in the images and text used in the ads.
Is there more detail or less? Are the images bigger
or smaller? Has the vocabulary changed?
Explore product development
in terms of historic and economic eras. How
were products developed and marketed in preindustrial
times? What effect did industrialization have on product
growth and development? How are products developed
and marketed in today's global economy? What role
did advertising play during each of these time periods?
Explore the economics of
YOUR local community. Investigate the history
of your local community. Were there entrepreneurs
or inventors who developed products in your hometown?
Are there any brand name products available today
that can be linked to your local community?
Discuss the impact of branding
on consumer awareness today. How many "brands"
are in an average supermarket? Do media or print advertisements
influence our purchases? Do students or their parents
purchase brand name products? Have students conduct
a study or poll of preferred brands or selected items.
Ask students to predict what new items on today's
supermarket shelves might have staying power. What
products might be fads or failures?
Investigate the history
of trademarks, logos and patents. The United
States Patent and Trademark Office and the International
Trademark Association are excellent sources of
Study the concept of genericization.
Compile a list and study the history of specific brand
names like Aspirin, Kleenex, Xerox or Vaseline that
have become so common that they are often used to
name the generic product. A fascinating article on
this topic - American
Proprietary Eponyms - contains an excellent database
of these terms.
Discuss the ethical issues
regarding the making and selling of "knock-off"
products. Is it legal to make a "knock-off"
or close copy of a name brand? How does this practice
affect the marketability of an authentic brand name
Explore the topic of media
literacy in relation to advertising. Learn
more about advertising theory and the art of persuasion.
Study advertising techniques used in television and
magazine advertisements. Compare product or service
ads with political ads. Are the same techniques used?
What makes an advertisement successful?
Develop a hypothetical
product. Determine the age, gender and occupation
of your target consumer and design an advertising
campaign to launch the product.