How Norwich's 'different angle on the world' has made it a brand hotspot

Norwich has given birth to a host of well-known brands over the years including Lotus, Colman's and Start-Rite, but why?

Norwich has given birth to a host of well-known brands over the years including Lotus, Colman's and Start-Rite, but why? - Credit: HISTORY OF ADVERTISING TRUST/SUPPLIED

Norwich has created more well-known brands than any other city of its size in the world, a professor from the University of East Anglia has said.

These range from Colman's and Norwich Union, to Lotus and Naked Wines.

Though the city's entrepreneurial excellence dates back as far as the 1700s it is still at the cutting edge of industry to this day.

These famous brands make products ranging from high-performance sports cars, to financial products, and even turkey twizzlers.

But why has a small East Anglian city given birth to so many famous brands? 


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"It's a combination of non-conformist thinking and a belief in the importance values that I think are characteristic of Norwich," UEA professor Robert Jones said.

"If you think about the number of current big brands, plus the brands which used to be really famous and sadly no longer exist that were all born or lived in and around Norwich — I don't think many cities this size are going to be able to match that."

Colman's is one of many famous brands to have come from Norwich

Colman's is one of many famous brands to have come from Norwich - Credit: HISTORY OF ADVERTISING TRUST

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But it's not just that famous companies have been started in Norwich, the city has also been home to developments in advertising and brand-building.

"I think there's a sort of, 'taking a different angle on the world' thing that is characteristic of Norwich," Mr Jones, who is professor of brand leadership at Norwich Business School, said.

This sideways slant, he continued, is because the city is not on the way to anywhere.

"That means the thinking here is slightly different from mainstream thinking," he said. "It's not in the main flow — it's a different way of doing things."

And this has helped build companies into household names.

Mr Jones said: "Jeremiah Colman was one of the first people to think that instead of sending your products out in in blank packages, you would create a really memorable visual style and with the bull symbol and the yellow colour."

A Colman's tin showing the bright yellow and bull logo

Colman's was one of the first brands to make use of bold colours and packaging - Credit: HISTORY OF ADVERTISING TRUST

And the company continued to innovate. In the 1890s an image of cricketer WG Grace — one of the most famous men in the country at the time — was used to advertise the mustard.

"It's understanding that when when you create a brand, you're creating something in popular culture, and by linking into something that is already famous in popular culture, you build your brand.

"That seems obvious to us now — it's what most big brands do — but it was very, very innovative when Colman's did it."

This genius for branding has continued throughout the years.

Mr Jones said: "In the 20th century there is Bernard Matthews —  I think he's a great example of a storyteller who could see how you might build a brand around a story.

"Or Start-Rite shoes which built a brand around that famous poster of the two children walking off together into the distance."

Pictured: A 1951 advert for Start-Rite shoes showing two children walking into the distance together

Start-Rite is among the famous brands Norwich has given birth to over the years. Pictured: A 1951 advert for Start-Rite shoes. - Credit: HISTORY OF ADVERTISING TRUST

Even in the 21st century Norwich continues to be a hub of brand-building.

Simon Middleton is a brand-expert from the city and he has seen businesses that pride themselves on building other people's brands make the city their home.

He said: "The heritage companies came first, but I think the industry of brand, branding and brand management, has grown up in their wake.

"It's quite a recent phenomenon. It's only in the last decade — probably in the last half decade — that has really come to fruition in Norwich.

"It's a sort of a virtuous circle I think."

Bernard Matthews poster.

Bernard Matthews poster. - Credit: Supplied

There are plans to continue to grow Norwich as a centre of excellence for branding in the future.

While the branding for these plans has not yet been finalised Mr Jones, who is spearheading the proposal, said it must not be a "complacent centre of excellence".

He said: "It's a centre of not just excellence but innovation and pioneering and doing different.

"There's a kind of completely mad work ethic in London. And the Norwich creative agencies are deliberately taking a very different stance and saying they don't expect people to be working into the evenings or working weekends, because that doesn't actually increase the creativity.

There are plans to further cement Norwich's position as a centre of branding excellence

There are plans to further cement Norwich's position as a centre of branding excellence - Credit: HISTORY OF ADVERTISING TRUST

"I think that's one way that we as a centre of excellence can show there is better way of doing branding and creative work."

Mr Jones added that inclusivity was a major focus in the future plans.

One organisation that will play a unique role in the plans for the Norwich brand cluster is the History of Advertising Trust.

Based in Raveningham, around 15 miles south-east of Norwich, the trust has 8,000 sq ft of archives dedicated to preserving adverts from days gone by.

John Gordon-Saker, the trust's director, said: "It's the largest archive of British brands in the world.

"We're sort of guardians of brand heritage, really.

"We can track all of the adverts dating back to the first industrial revolution to 1760, right the way through to modern times.

"I think if all the brand agencies, the advertising agencies, the PR companies, and the marketing and comms, come together with the academic institutions, and the civic side then I think it's all about promoting the city as a top place to do branding."

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