Forged By War: A Short History
By Ashwini Deshpande and Manav Kambli
Let’s revisit brands that were created/developed because of a pressing military need, or the environment of war
The toughest adversities aren’t often natural in origin. No one can obviously deny the impact of a raging hurricane or a devastating earthquake, but if we are to examine a key cause of generational, historical misery, only one word comes to mind: War.
Often (rightfully) described as the theatre of destruction or the greatest tragedy that we as a species still haven’t fully managed to escape, war embodies everything that we detest. Perhaps that is why we prefer economic and strategic routes when it comes to settling conflicts between nations and individuals.
Ironically and cruelly, war is also a theatre of opportunity. Those familiar with the Military Industrial Complex are well-aware of what a war-driven economy can provide. Even as seemingly innocuous inventions are converted into deadly weapons, it is also true that these times of unthinkable adversity have produced a fair share of ingenious products, applications and more. These have transcended their military context and entered our civilian lives — to the point where their histories are non-existent in the popular imagination.
From clothing to confectionary, from utility to simply aesthetics, here’s a brief slice of history that we felt we had to explore — especially given our immersion in the world of brands and the ways in which they interact with our everyday lives.
While the World Wars almost always take center stage, the Spanish Civil War turned out to be a source of inspiration for Forrest Mars Sr of the Mars Company fame. His keen eye saw that the soldiers were eating chocolates with a hard panned (hardened sugar syrup) exterior, which essentially prevented the chocolate from melting in warmer climates. The results of this observation are condensed in the ubiquitous M&M’s, consumed with relish in over 100 countries today.
Speaking of these sweet nothings, war and chocolate do seem to go hand in hand. Cadbury shipped thousands of chocolate bars for the troops with the message “A present to our friends at the front from the workpeople at Cadbury’s Bourneville” — encapsulating the warmth of the ‘special moment’ (one can only imagine the small comfort a bar of chocolate can provide in the grimy trenches) that the brand has always stood for since time immemorial.
A third, crucial mention goes to Scho-Ka-Kola: a chocolate that has been sued by Coca-Cola, yes, but more importantly, was an integral component of the crew rations provided to Luftwaffe pilots. Containing significant amounts of caffeine (from cocoa and Kola nuts), it was used to increase alertness, especially during night-bombing missions — making it a potent delicacy indeed!
Can you hear Me?
Without communication, losses are absolute: there is no exception to this rule as far as war is concerned. Both Vodafone and Motorola — names that have managed to withstand the test of time — have their histories intwined with military outfits.
Vodafone’s first mobile phone (the Mobira Transportable) weighed all of 11 pounds (perhaps not that mobile) was developed under the aegis of Racal Electronics: UK’s largest military radiotech company at the time. Motorola, on the other hand, developed the Handie-Talkie SCR536 portable two-way radio — which has gained iconic status today.
Going from A to B
Perhaps we jumped the gun too quickly, because transportation is arguably equally, if not more important than communication when it comes to warfare! The first four-wheel drive vehicle to be manufactured for the masses was the Willys MB/Ford GPW — known more simply as ‘The Jeep’ and with good reason. With President Eisenhower himself remarking that it was one of the three crucial weapons in the US’ arsenal as far as WWII was concerned, owning a Jeep meant investing in durability, strength, adaptability — and, most importantly — a vision of the future.
The other worthy mention is a direct product of the Nazi regime: the Volkswagen Beetle, created keeping Hitler’s mandate for a ‘People’s Car’ in mind.
Wars and uniforms are synonymous. Attire matters more when the world is at war, possibly more than 99% of all the other situations you’re likely to find yourself in. Beyond pure utility, the psychological impact of attire cannot be stressed enough and both these aspects flare to life when presented with adversity.
From Bausch and Lomb developing the Ray Ban Aviator to reduce the headaches pilots routinely experienced to Hugo Boss being the official supplier for several arms of the Nazi Party (The SS and Hitler Youth, amongst others), from Acquascutum making water-repellent raincoats during the Crimean War for British Soldiers to Burberry utilizing Gabardine to develop the Trench Coat (Tielocken) that defined the essence of modern warfare — subtlety, utility and agility — an entire spectrum of clothing that we utilize in our daily lives does, in fact, find its origins in a pressing need being addressed for those who fought on the front lines. The
Ascendency of Women
With war being largely considered a manly affair, women began breaking the mold out of a necessity to manage affairs back home and on the field — socially, economically and most importantly, ideologically. Naturally, products for women also took center-stage.
Take sanitary pads, for instance. With army nurses utilizing medical gauze wadding to stem menstrual flow, Kimberly Clark took due notice and developed the Kotex Sanitary pad in 1920 — marketed as an essential wardrobe item for the modern woman then.
Women’s couture was no different: with WWI pushing more and more women into the workforce and a general lack of fabric variety, Gabrielle Chanel created clothing by utilizing the beige wool jersey. We don’t need to reinforce the presence of Coco Chanel in the world of fashion today, where homage is still paid to the founder and her ability to create prudent clothing amidst hardship and scarcity.
Flight of Fantasy
Associated with bubbliness, optimism and the go-getter attitude, Fanta is actually the result of a trade embargo being imposed on the import of Coca-Cola syrup and American products, in general.
Having to utilize locally available ingredients like beet sugar, apple pomace and whey — the substitute ‘Fanta’, named after the German word ‘Fantasie’ for imagination was created. Today, it is one of the most adored soft-drinks in the world with many, many additional variants that line retail shelves.
Anticipating the Future
When nationalism and consumerism combine, they historically (and contemporarily) have made for a very heady mixture. Current trends notwithstanding, we also observed that there were brands that were actively marketing for the future. Since the environment of war has also been synonymous with rapid advancements in technology, many potential products were developed but their commercial applications had to be on hold.
But companies actively took advantage of the War Advertising Council in the US where they completely occupied the consumer’s imagination by showing them a glimpse of a post-war future, where all of this newly developed technology would be at their beck and call. Bell and Howell Filmo projectors were often used to show presentations to soldiers and later aimed to become a household name; General Tires encouraged people to buy war bonds instead of their tires because rubber was in short supply and so on as a promise of the optimistic, prosperous time that was yet to come with an Allied victory.
As we delved into this topic, we acknowledged the fact that while these little fragments of history make for fun, engaging trivia, they also signal to us that adversity, man-made or otherwise is firmly entwined with human progress on an unprecedented scale. Forged by war, products do not simply remain fragments of memory or relics — for that matter — but become synonymous with a past that promised a redemptive future worth living for.
This article was carried by BW Marketing World in October’21. This article was co-authored by Ashwini Deshpande, Co-Founder & Director and Manav Kambli — Elephant.