Our tenth episode of the Famous logos series takes us to the 19th century, when nationwide companies started to rise and knowledge about branding and brand licensing became possible.
Bass Brewery was founded in 1777 by William Bass in Burton-upon-Trent, Staffordshire, England. The main brand was Bass Pale Ale, once the highest-selling beer in the UK. By 1877, Bass had become the largest brewery in the world, with an annual output of one million barrels. Its pale ale was exported throughout the British Empire, and the company’s iconic red triangle became the UK’s first registered trademark.
Not that branding was anything new. Hundreds of years earlier, tradesmen used a form of logo to show often-illiterate customers exactly what they were selling. The first trademark legislation was passed by parliament during the reign of Henry III in 1266 and required all bakers to use a distinctive mark for the bread they sold.
Aided by its simple but compelling logo, Bass transformed itself into one of the biggest in the country, producing more than 1.5 million barrels of beer annually. By the time Bass had become one of the UK’s top 30 companies in the 1930s, ad agencies were exploring the concept of brands and recognising their importance in building relationships with consumers. The company was one of the first to be listed in the FT30 index of the London Stock Exchange in 1935.
Bass took control of a number of other large breweries in early 20th century, and in the 1960s merged with Charrington United Breweries to become the largest UK brewing company, Bass Charrington. The brewing operations of the company were bought by Interbrew (now Anheuser-Busch InBev) in 2000, while the retail side (hotels and pubs) were renamed Six Continents plc. Because at the time Interbrew controlled a large portion of the UK beer market, the Competition Commission instructed Interbrew to sell the Bass brewery along with certain brands to Coors (now Molson Coors), while retaining the rights to the Bass brand. In 2010, it was widely reported that AB-InBev was attempting to sell the rights to the Bass brand in the UK for around £10 to £15 million.
Bass was a pioneer in international brand marketing. Bass applied a red triangle to casks of its Pale Ale. After 1855, the triangles were red, white or blue, depending on which of their three breweries it came from, but all bottles of Pale Ale had the red triangle from that date.
The legislation act came into effect on 1 January 1876 and legend has it that a Bass employee queued overnight outside the registrar’s office on New Year’s Eve in order to be the first in line to register a trade mark the next morning. As a result, Bass, Ratcliff & Gretton Limited received the first two registrations, the Bass Red Triangle for their pale ale and the Bass Red Diamond next for their strong ale. The trade marks are now owned by Brandbrew SA, an InBev subsidiary based in Luxembourg. In June 2013, InBev renamed Bass Pale Ale as Bass Trademark No.1.
Bottles of Bass with the Red Triangle logo have occasionally appeared in art and literature, including Édouard Manet‘s 1882 painting A Bar at the Folies-Bergère and in over 40 paintings by Picasso, mostly at the height of his Cubist period around 1914. Bass Ale is even mentioned in connection with the sinking of the Titanic, as it was carrying 12,000 bottles of Bass in its hold when it sank.
Why they selected a red triangle remains unclear. Some say it was an age-old shipping mark. But an 1880 edition of the Derbyshire Times offered a more romantic notion: ‘A biographer playfully suggested the Bass family descended from the ancient classical deity Bassareus to whom libations were routinely offered. Bass thereafter fixed upon the notion of adopting an ancient and powerful symbol as their mark. They settled upon Egypt’s “Great Pyramid” drenched in a burning sun. The Red Triangle was thus conceived.’
Today, the Bass pale ale brand is part of the Anheuser-Busch InBev brewing company — the largest in the world — and is available on draught and in bottles and cans in over 50 countries.
Fun fact: The oldest currently operating brewery in the world, as they themselves claim, is Bayerische Staatsbrauerei Weihenstephan, which was founded in 1040. The first record of hops being grown in the area dates back over 1,250 years to 768.