I bring you a book on a topic that has become increasingly popular over the years, and now it seems we all must be “a brand”.
A Secret History of Brands: The Dark and Twisted Beginnings of the Brand Names We Know and Love by Matt MacNabb
We live our lives immersed in name brand products. It’s hard to drive down the street without seeing a plethora of chain restaurants, car dealerships, branded clothing they’re all around us. What most of us don’t know is that the origins of many of the most well-known and beloved brands in the world are shrouded in controversy, drug use and sometimes even addled with blatant racism.
A Secret History of Brands cuts through the rumors and urban legends and paints a picture of the true dark history of famous brands, like Coca-Cola, Hugo Boss, Adidas, Ford, Bayer, Chanel and Bakelite among others. Explore the mystery of the cocaine content of Coca-Cola, the Hitler-Henry Ford connection and why Bayer is famous for aspirin but began their journey with Heroin, and how Kellogg’s Corn Flakes were crafted to deter sexual arousal. Thoroughly researched, McNabb details first-hand conducted interviews alongside fairly weighed research to present the decisive view of brands histories that you haven’t heard of yet.
About the author:
Matt MacNabb is a pop culture historian, author and freelance writer that has spent the better part of the past 20 years studying movies, tv, comics, toys and their effects on our culture. Matt is the mind behind a network of popular websites, including LegionsOfGotham.org, GhostbustersCollector.com, TMNTCollector.com, TheAtariNation.com, and PixarCollector.com. A regarded authority on Batman and comic book history, Matt and his work has been featured in publications like Total Film, SFX Magazine, Variety, Brick Journal, on CNN and BBC Radio, and other various books, magazines, radio shows, and newspapers. He has contributed freelance writing to several websites, including Snopes and Screen Rant. He has also contributed content and editorial services to books like Holy Franchise, Batman and The Dc Comics Action Figure Archive and is the author of four books, including Batman’s Arsenal: An Encyclopedic Chronicle, Ghostbusters Collectables, A Secret History of Brands: The Dark and Twisted Beginnings of the Brand Names We Know and Love and Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles Collectables. Matt resides in Omaha, NE with his wife and four children, he can be found online at his official website MattMacNabb.com.
Thanks to Alex and the whole team at Pen & Sword for providing me with a review paperback copy of this book that I freely chose to review.
I would not class myself as particularly “brand-aware”. Although when I was younger I wanted to have the latest of everything, especially if all my friends had it (oh, the wonders of peer-pressure, even then), with time I’ve become quite skeptical about it, and I tend to avoid them if I can. (I understand the status thing, but I can’t see why I should have to pay and then, on top of that, be happy to advertise the product by making sure everybody knows what it is). Give me local craft any day! So, of course, I could not resist a book that promised to share with its readers ‘The Dark and Twisted Beginnings of the Brand Names We Know and Love’. And it delivers, for sure. I suspect if you are big authorities on the subject, you might already know a lot of the information contained in this book but if like me, you are just curious, this is a gem.
I’d never read anything by this author before, but his style is engaging and he pitches this volume at the right level for the subject: he includes the adequate amount of historical information about each one of the brands and characters (inventors, creators, public figures…) to make sure that the readers understand the context of each brand and its products, and then focuses on the more intriguing and less publicized aspects of their evolution. Some of them might be more familiar than others (I suspect a lot of readers will know about Coca-Cola and its early cocaine content), but even then, MacNabb manages to unearth elements of the story that are bizarre and less well-known (so Coca-Cola still contains extracts of coca leaves [no actual cocaine though, don’t worry!] supplied by the only lab in the US with a permit to import coca leaves).
While some of the chapters are curious and amusing (like the Coca-Cola one or the chapter on the Kellogg’s ‘war on sex’), some can be quite disturbing. There are many connections to Nazi Germany I was not aware of, like Hugo Boss’s manufacture of Nazi uniforms, Adidas & Puma’s Nazi connections (I had no idea the creators of these two brands were brothers, either), Chanel’s spying for the Germans (and the fact that the information was kept under wraps by the French government). For me, the most shocking were the chapters on Bayer (not so much the Heroin production, even if they seem to have become aware of its addicting properties quite early on, but its direct connection to slave labour and the production of Zyklon B, used in the gas chambers in the concentration camps), and Henry Ford and his anti-Semitic beliefs and writings (that seem to have inspired Hitler). The chapters on Winchester and Bakelite were intriguing (as I didn’t know anything at all about the history of the objects, other than some vague notion of the importance of the rifle) but sad, due to the personal tragedies behind the stories.
This book is a great read, a page-turner, and I suspect most readers will move on to read full accounts on some of the selected topics. Although the brands are chosen for their interesting stories, the author gives credit where credit is due and always tries to offer as balanced an account as possible of the people and the companies, making sure to emphasise how things have changed for most of them. It is a sobering thought to reflect upon the past of some of these household names, and it is important we don’t forget the lessons learned.
I recommend this book to anybody interested in brands, pop culture, history, and it will be a resource of interest to writers and researchers. (The notes contain bibliographical information for those interested in further reading). Another great addition to the publisher’s varied catalogue.
Thanks to the publishers and the author, thanks to all of you for reading and remember to like, share, comment, click, and REVIEW!