Shelf Life: Quirkiest brands revisited

Last December (2015) the BBC ran an online article entitled “The brand name you’ll never forget >”, talking about the importance in choosing the right brand name in todays global market – and more importantly, how a brand name – innocent in one country, can have vastly different meanings in another. This article prompted us to revisit a book we created with friend Rosie Walford, designed and published via Bloomsbury in 2004 . 

Wherever we travel abroad, we’ll always make a beeline for the local supermarket to scan the shelves for interesting packaging or product names with a double entendre, and we’ve built up a mammoth collection. One evening back in early 2000 we were at Rosie’s house and discovered she had a cabinet full of similar packs and cans. We joked that between us we had enough interesting packaging to create a book… and the idea stuck.

The three of us approached key publishers and eventually got a deal with Bloomsbury. We named the book ‘Shelf Life’ and set about the essential task of seeking copyright clearance on all the products for inclusion in the book—hiring a team of people with different language skills to hammer the phones in an attempt to track down hundreds of copyright owners around the world—even for a box of matches bought 30 years ago in Tibet. 

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It was a mountainous task, but rewarding to make something happen for ourselves. And we made it happen. We designed the book and created a limited-edition ‘sweet packet’ foil wrapper, and launched it in Selfridges with an exhibition and party. We dreamt up a PR strategy which ended up with radio, TV and major newspaper coverage.

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‘Shelf Life’ sold well over 11,000 copies worldwide, and became something of a cult success. Although it appears light hearted in its look at product names, it’s actually a homage to the last bastions of independent brands that are sadly dying out, now that globalisation has homogenised our world. Shelf Life is still available to buy. Grab your copy here >.

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Shelf Life Book