5 Companies That Practically Invented Modern Branding

The best brands are instantly recognizable.

The moment you see them on a computer screen or in a grocery store, certain mental images and emotions are evoked. And some of these brands are so strong, even a color or a particular font can identify them in the minds of consumers.

But this level of brand recognition is no accident; it's the result of a strong marketing proposition that gets into the hearts and minds of the public.

These five iconic companies developed a killer brand -- and each one now transcends its own particular industry.

1. Coca Cola

Coca Cola was developed by pharmacist Dr. John Pemberton in Atlanta, Georgia. He made a jug of the soda in his home, and carried it down the street to his local pharmacy. The store owner was so impressed, he immediately agreed to sell it for five cents a glass -- and the rest is history.

 First ad for Coca-Cola, 1886.

First ad for Coca-Cola, 1886.

Pemberton advertised in local newspapers, and advertised his new drink outside stores using hand-painted signs made with oilcloth. Crucially, the trademark white logo on a red background was created by Frank M. Robinson in 1886.

But it wasn't until a marketing professional bought Coca Cola from Pemberton that the brand began to develop a life of its own. Asa Candler bought the tiny soft drinks company, and plowed $11,000 into advertising. At first, branded soda fountains, pencils, clocks, and calendars were used to build the brand's national identity. By 1910, Coca Cola had a marketing budget of more than $1 million. The company began to advertise on huge billboards, and it wasn't long before expensive radio commercials were being played across America.

The Coca Cola brand has enjoyed several milestone moments over the years. In 1931, the iconic Christmas illustration put Santa in a Coca Cola-red suit. The first television commercial aired in 1950, and the company became one of the pioneers of celebrity endorsements shortly after -- thanks to collaborations with the likes of Joan Crawford and Aretha Franklin.

The first Coca Cola bottle was designed in 1916. The iconic contoured bottle was an attempt to distinguish the brand from the many competitors that emerged during the preceding 20 years. This shape became as much a part of the brand as the famous logo, and remained in production until 1955 -- when it was tweaked for a new age.

2. Apple

Apple's Macintosh personal computer was launched in 1984 -- via a Super Bowl TV commercial the company's directors hated. Indeed, Walter Isaacson described the ad as "The worst commercial they had ever seen."

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Directed by Ridley Scott, the commercial portrayed a bleak, dystopian future in the mold of the one created by George Orwell in his famous novel "1984." The message was one of free-thinking, individuality and standing out from the crowd -- and it worked spectacularly. Apple went on to sell 72,000 units in the following 100 days, which was twice the board's forecast.

Despite several bumps in the road -- which included the infamous "Lemmings" ad and "The power to be your best slogan -- Apple had created a strong brand. That partially eaten apple stood for more than a simple home computer; it stood for style, free-thinking and innovation. When the digital age arrived in the early 1990s, two decades of brand-building was vindicated in spectacular style.

3. McDonald's

Salesman Ray Kroc was sold on the McDonald's brand the moment he walked into the San Bernardino restaurant in search of a sale. He loved the concept so much, he negotiated a franchise deal to open one of his own. Kroc eventually bought the entire company from founders Richard and Maurice McDonald.

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Kroc was captivated by the glowing "Golden Arches," and he knew that the brand alone would be enough to build an empire. The premise behind this global brand is a relatively simple one: Good burgers served quickly. That, along with that famous logo makes this one of the most successful examples of aggressive branding in the history of modern consumerism.

4. Disney

Founded by brothers Walt and Roy Disney in 1923, The Walt Disney Company endured a tumultuous first few years of production. Walt's Oswald the Lucky Rabbit was a commercial hit, and made the brothers a lot of money. However, the cartoon's distributor had sneakily drawn up a contract gave him the rights to the character. Walt and his brother lost control over their own creation, and the Walt Disney Studio was forced to start again.

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Walt created the character of Mickey Mouse in his Hyperion Avenue studio in Hollywood. Steamboat Willie was the short film that launched a cartoon superstar -- and one of today's most recognizable brands. The Walt Disney Company has built its brand on animation of the highest quality. Magical worlds of make-believe and family-friendly entertainment are now synonymous with Disney. And to this day, something as simple as Walt's own signature is the mark of quality entertainment for people of all ages.

5. Nike

Founded in 1964 in Eugene, Oregon, Nike is now the world's most recognizable sportswear brand. The original company was called Blue Ribbon Sports, and it sold running shoes imported from Japanese company Onitsuka Tiger. Founder Philip Knight sold the shoes out of the back of his car at athletics meetings across America, and within 18 months he and his partner William J. Bowerman had a small workforce and a large retail space of their own.

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In 1971, the owners of Blue Ribbon Sports realized that they needed to rebrand in order to take the next step -- selling their shoes across America. They began to design their own shoes, and changed the company name to Nike, after the Greek goddess of victory. Graphic design student Carolyn Davidson was paid the princely sum of just $35 for her now iconic "swoosh" icon.

And the rest is history.