The more things change, the more they stay the same…
Wedgwood Pottery was founded in 1759 by Josiah Wedgwood, in Stoke-on-Trent, just down the road from the office i used to work in when I was at Phones 4U Group. You will no doubt be familiar with their iconic Wedgwood blue and white relief patterns, but you may not be familiar with the fact that they were arguably the world’s first brand. Long before Henry Ford became famous for automating his factory production line, Josiah Wedgwood figured out how to mass produce pottery in his Staffordshire based factory in the North of England. (It’s worth digging out the full story of Josiah and the founding of Wedgwood ~ it’s quite a read. They even influenced the way that communities and canals were built).
Unsure of how to promote these revolutionary new products his company was making, Wedgwood decided to give a quantity of them away for free to the royal family, through his family connections. It took six years of running the world’s first product placement and influencer out-reach campaign, but the powder blue Wedgwood earthenware was eventually noticed by the British Queen consort Charlotte of Mecklenberg-Strelitz. Upon request, and another delivery of his most recent designs, Queen Charlotte gave her permission to call it “Queen’s Ware”. With this seal of royal approval, Wedgwood created the world’s first direct mail campaign, eager to spread the word far and wide about his aspirational new brand.
These days, ex-Burberry CEO Angela Ahrendts is taking a lot of credit for the marketing of the Apple Watch as a “mass-market luxury” item, and rightfully so. It’s a gorgeous luxury product, aimed at a mass-market. I’m not sure Apple’s optimistic figures of selling one to 10% of iPhone owners is entirely realistic, but it’s clearly a great product. Calling Apple products mass-market luxury makes sense, but it’s worth remembering that Josiah Wedgwood was doing this 257 years ago. Jobs was keen for people to think different, and heralded the arrival of Apple stores as cathedrals for people who chose to think differently, but as we all know, many things at Apple have a certain “reality distortion field“.
“When it’s a choice between the truth and the legend, print the legend”. Anthony H. Wilson
What I love about Josiah Wedgwood, is that he didn’t just revolutionise the pottery industry, he became effectively one of the founding fathers of the marketing industry, leading one of the world’s most significant brands. Sure it was hundreds of years ago, but I still think it’s a shame that he is never mentioned by marketers or credited enough by the marketing industry. Wedgwood was the father of mass market luxury, centuries before brands like BMW, LV, Burberry or Apple even existed.
“We live by what we believe, not by what we see”. Angela Ahrendts (SVP Retail, Apple)
Let me show you what I mean. Take a look at the Apple store, a beautiful store layout that we celebrate as the perfect retail space, epitomising the very essence of mass marketing luxury. Unlike the NikeTown stores which were originally built as brand museums, not profit making stores, Apple stores claimed that they were to re-inventing retail.
Are they innovative? Of course they are. Apple stores beautiful to shop in and HUGE commercial successes.
But are they original. No.
Apple Store, Paris (2009)
A cathedral to showcase “mass-market luxury” designed by creative director and industrial designer Jonny Ive. Open spaces. Ornate pillars. Genius bar staffed by product experts. Apple is world’s most profitable retailer (per square foot).
Wedgwood Store, London (1809)
Described as a cathedral to showcase “mass-market luxury” designed by creative director and industrial designer John Flaxman. Open spaces. Ornate pillars. Expert counter staffed by product experts. One of the most profitable retail spaces in London.
As a beautiful post-script to this story, Josiah’s great grandson was a gentleman explorer and anthropologist called Charles Darwin, who went on to start a revolution of his own, with his survival of the fittest theory in “Origin of the Species”. That’s some family. At the time, Josiah Wedgwood was challenged as being a maverick who’s ideas wouldn’t last and who’s business model was un-sustainable. Here was his response:
“Beautiful forms and compositions are not made by chance, nor can they ever, in any material, be made at small expense.
A composition for cheapness and not excellence of workmanship is the most frequent and certain cause of the rapid decay and entire destruction of arts and manufactures”.
In many ways Josiah Wedgwood was the Steve Jobs of his day. Even the language he uses here sounds like something Jobs might have said in a WWDC keynote, doesn’t it?
The more things change, the more they really do stay the same.