However, had the brands consultancy been around a few centuries ago, it would have found products with the universal appeal enjoyed by the likes of Coca-Cola today. Here is my list of the leading brands of yesteryear, compared and contrasted with their modern-day descendants.
McDonald's: the wart hog. The McHog, or the Big Wart, was once a dominant food brand. The staple diet of royal forces returning to their castle to banquet after a spot of pillage, it was admittedly not very fast: first it had to be skinned and roasted over an open fire, then diners would have to wait for several days to see if the king's taster dropped dead from food poisoning.
American Express: the Ox. The accepted form of credit in its day, oxen could be bartered for anything from prospective wives to hunting knives. Deals had to be conducted furtively for it was a breach of the 10 Commandments to "covet thy neighbour's ox".
KFC: wild boar. Not only was boar finger-lickin' good but, given the amount of fat that dripped down as it roasted over the fire, it was tummy- lickin', leg-lickin' and foot-lickin' good.
Heinz: the Chameleon. If the camouflage-conscious lizard was on sale in the shops, it would put 57 Varieties in perspective. Just like "Beanz Meanz Heinz", it was to have had the slogan, "Chameleon, thanks a Million". But this was dismissed as silly.
Kleenex: grass. In the absence of man-sized tissues, the green stuff was the favoured outlet for the green stuff. The presence of grass practically everywhere in the world was testament to its broad-based market appeal.
Gillette: the cutlass. The swashbuckling razor favoured by pirates everywhere gave the cleanest shave imaginable. Unfortunately, for the recipient at least, it was not so much a case of the "best a man can get" as the "worst a man can get".
Ikea: Dante's Inferno. Anyone who dies and goes to hell will surely find themselves on London's North or South Circular Road en route to the Swedish furniture emporium.
CNN: the messenger on horseback. The pioneer of real-time news, the messenger took dispatches between army generals and the frontline. Sadly, military hardware changed and he was blown up by a howitzer.
BEFORE leaving brands, it is instructive to look at the problems confronting Rover as it tries to raise its profile in the domestic market by defining and then embracing "Britishness".
The concept is fraught with difficulty. For a start, when the words "British" and "car" are combined, the perception is still of union troubles and shoddy design. Second, what is Britishness, anyway? John Major thinks of warm beer and village cricket; others just think of beer.
Third, we Brits want it all - cars that are racy yet reliable, sexy yet safe. They must go from 0 to 60 in three seconds and from 60 to 0 even quicker.
So how should Rover proceed? Tom Blackett, deputy chairman of Interbrand, says he'd want the advert to "reflect the personality of the brand - a character that speaks for style and good engineering". Step forward the flinty-eyed, square-jawed hero we'd all like to emulate. James Bond was rough and tough but had a touch more British reserve than Arnold Schwarzenegger. He drove an Aston Martin, a car that was sleek, fast, turned on to its side when driving down alleyways and yet had advanced safety features: at the first sign of trouble, 007 simply activated the ejector seat. So, Rover, if you want a coup, call on Q.
I must protest
The times they are a' changin'. Bob Dylan, that one-time scourge of corporate America, has turned rebellion into money (literally, in this case) by lending his song to an advertisement for the Bank of Montreal. Now that the last bastion of rock 'n' roll protest has crumbled, here are my tips for upcoming ad campaigns featuring Songs never, ever to be used for selling products. Definitely. Maybe.
Billie Holliday's Strange Fruit. The jazz singer's song about racist lynch mobs in the Deep South will be specially adapted for fruit suppliers when the European Union implements its directive on straight bananas.
Dylan's The answer is blowing in the wind - for Andrex.
The Smiths' (Heaven Knows) I'm Miserable Now - for Kleenex.
The Oasis anthem Wonderwall - for Barratt Homes.
Lynn Anderson's I Never Promised you a Rose Garden - for Wickes.
The Sex Pistols' Anarchy in the UK - for the rail network.
And Louis Prima's I'll be glad when you're dead, you rascal you - for the Co-op's funeral service.
Your suggestions would be welcome, but be warned: anything you say may be taken down and used in an advert.
The deafening silence that falls after a clanger is dropped and conversation stops can be fascinating to students of human nature. How does one break the silence?
More interesting is the question of who breaks the silence. In a business meeting, it traditionally falls to the chairman, but more excitable attendees of a meeting (such as the marketing/sales/public relations cohorts) sometimes chime in first. A distant Bunhill relative (who often chairs meetings) likes to torture such souls with further conversation stoppers when the tea and commuting stories come out. His favourite: "You remind me of my father after he died".
Meanwhile, correspondence has been pouring into Bunhill towers on further conversation arresters. Some early contenders for fizz include: Stephanie Newsome of Warlingham, who offers "forgive my limp handshake - the transplant didn't work too well"; Chris Sladen of Ealing, who suggests the priceless financial advice of "if it's cash flow we're worried about, here's a tip I picked up from Bob Maxwell"; and Alan Jones of Mountsorrell in Leicestershire, whose showstopper "Hello, I'm Tiny", he reminds us, "will only work at Lonrho shareholder meetings. Elsewhere people will just laugh". Keep the ideas coming.
Eye on the future
Strange visions at Microsoft. As we show on the left, the software giant's plans for the future have been set out in a book by Bill Gates called The Road Ahead. So why's he looking the other way?
Blair for breakfast
Calling all businessmen, the 1996 Children in Need Appeal is holding a business breakfast at the Cafe Royal on Thursday 21 November between 8.00 and 9.30am. Tony Blair will be there to answer questions. Tickets are pounds 150 each, and all the proceeds will go to Children in Need. Call Nicola James on 0181 255 1086, or 0181 977 2109.