On Bass Beer, Pablo Picasso, the Merchant Adventurers of London, and wolves.

This newsletter runs with a nifty Wordpress plugin called Mailpoet. It provides some limited metrics. You know, clicks and views and all the stuff that young up'n-coming internet superstars need to pump their brand meter.

I can also save drafts that I'm working on. I've had one brewing since TSS #2 about why I quit posting on social media. But, a thousand words and six months into it, I realized that the whole essay boiled down to one thing: "I'm tired of being a brand."

or alternately:

"I'm tired of subcontracting my ideas, feelings and relationships to corporations that combine them with the data they scrape from monitoring my online activity, all in order to target advertising back at me, sewing me into some kind of human centipede that eats it's own feces-filled tail."

There were other bits in there about the Culture of Convenience, the individual as a brand and the resulting watering-down of personality, how the internet killed the broadcast advertising model with narrowcasting but now the broadcasting wolf is back under the wool, coaxing us all to baa hashtags and viral videos. You know, typical stuff.

But there was an interesting bit about the history of corporate branding. And after I boiled out all the whining and stuff you're probably already sick of hearing (all the stuff that I stopped posting on facebook for in the first place) I still had that bit.

So, in the interest of cleaning house here at the end of this crazy and miserable and entirely difficult year, here's what's left. Find out how Bass Beer, Pablo Picasso and the Merchant Adventurers of London all combine to cobble the boot heel that now steps on our necks.


It's useful (at least for me) to assemble some kind of timeline for this stuff. Of course, the use of a symbol to represent an idea or organization is obviously ancient. Countries and clans have flags, religions use symbols, I'm sure literal brands (you know, for animals) have been around forever. But the idea of a Protected Brand Identity seems to have been a necessity for corporations first.

The modern idea of a corporate logo; a visual representation of a company, including its employees AND it's product, has an agreed-upon birth. Bass Beer's logo from 1876.

When you think about it, that's a pretty stunning image; Bright red with a great sense of abstraction. It's asymmetrical, there's even something vaguely facial about it; the triangle could be a hat or cover. And although the triangle is typically a symbol of solidity and wisdom (think pyramid) it combines with the fluid upward handcrafted script of the word to form an abstract arrow pointing forward. It's at once stable and moving forward.

But regardless of how great the logo is, I know what you're thinking: "How can Bass be the first brand? What about, as one example, the infamous East India Trading Company or EIC? I mean, they started around 1600, and their bale mark was a notorious symbol of thuggery and government mandated power wherever they went. Aren't they the first corporate logo?"

First off, let's look at the symbol for the EIC, because it's kind of amazing also: a heart split into quarters, a representation of the compass, with the company's initials stamped into the quadrants.

Dividing a heart into quarters and putting your mark on them? That's bold stuff. Almost as chilling as the Sherwin Williams "Cover the Earth" logo.

I wasn't able to find out why a 4 is on top of the heart, though I found some allusions to it being a government-mandated decision, a symbol to represent the Company of Merchant Adventurers of London, an even older and incredibly-awesomely-named confederation of companies with a charter to pillage and monopolize that dates back to the 1400's.

But as we said, besides the EIC there have been tons of symbols that represent business, religion, and government throughout history. Why is Bass Beer considered the first corporate symbol? Because it was the first one trademarked under the UK's innovative Trademark Registration Act of 1876.

A Bass Beer clerk whose name is lost to time waited overnight outside the registrar's office on New Year's Eve in order to be the first person in human history to publicly petition the government to protect a corporate symbol (at least in an above-board fashion.)

This idea catches fire of course, The U.S. has a working trademark act in place by 1881 (though interestingly enough, they began discussion of trademark protection in 1870. They just couldn't get it figured out till then)

Bass Beer's red triangle spreads to every corner of the world. Explorers in far-off lands walk into grass huts and find that, to their amazement, Bass Beer has already beat them there. It becomes a welcome and trusted reminder of home for the weary traveler (or pillaging colonialist.)

And inexplicably, an entirely new kind of relationship springs forth in the wake of Bass' popularity; the marriage of the arts and marketing. It's used in work by BraqueHayden and Manet, it's written about by James Joyce in "Ulysses".

That marriage has brought us many great and terrible things, including this 1990's Bass commercial, directed by Christopher Guest and starring Donal Logue, lecturing a bartender and a beautiful woman about how obsessed Picasso was with Bass.

Oh man I don't know how to feel about that thing. I know what Bill Hicks would say though.

So the next time you see footage of people beating each other senseless for a black friday Toshiba, or crowding into an Apple Store, or a race car driver shaking hands with a politician you can think of the Nike Swoosh, Milton Glaser, and how we all want to be a Pepper too.

And think of that poor Bass Beer clerk who stood outside all night, gingerly blowing on a kindling fire that he couldn't have imagined would ever burn so long and so bright.


As always, there's an archive for this newsletter at nealvonflue.com/newsletter/newsletter-archive/ Please share with anyone you think may enjoy it. They can subscribe at https://www.nealvonflue.com/newsletter/. I hear it increases my brand awareness. And after all, I DO want to be a standout in my field.

I hope you all have a wonderful holiday and New Years. Here's to the future and 2015!

Images: 1: A recent sketch 2: an actual email I got from Linkedin 3&4: the Bass and EIC logos 5: Manet's "A Bar at the Folie Bergere" painted in 1882.