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The emergence of brand building in the nineteenth century: William Lever and Sunlight Soap (UK, 1884)

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conference contribution
posted on 2023-08-30, 15:26 authored by Niall Caldwell, Swetketu Patnaik
The patent and copyright laws of the late nineteenth century, in Europe and the US, made possible for the first time the protection of intellectual and financial capital invested in brands and trademarks. Within this legal context the ‘Napoleon of Soap,’ William Hesketh Lever, brought to market one of the first brands of the modern era. The success of Sunlight Soap was based on product and packaging innovation and a series of marketing activities. Modern brand theory in the work of David Aaker gives us a means of interpreting Lever’s activities. We find that while there was no theoretical structure that Lever was working with, he was nevertheless creating a template for how to build a brand. The philanthropic claim of contributing to the good of society is stamped on the brand at birth and becomes a key brand association. Lever grows and merges his company to become Unilever. The legacy of the Sunlight brand remains intact even while the eponymous bar of soap has virtually disappeared. However the strength of those original brand associations has created the conditions for the later exploitation of these values by contemporary managers. Beginning in 2010 the Sustainable Living Plan was inaugurated as the central pillar of Unilever’s corporate business sustainability strategy. In 2015, for the fifth year in a row, Unilever tops the rankings of corporate sustainability leaders under the banner of Project Sunlight.


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Academy of Management Proceedings, Vol. 2018, No. 1

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78th Annual Meeting of the Academy of Management


Chicago, Illinois, USA

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  • Accepted version


  • eng

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ARCHIVED Lord Ashcroft International Business School (until September 2018)

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