Retailer Icons: The Building of a Brand

In the fairytale kingdom of marketing, icons and mascots can help retailers proclaim all over the land, ‘my brand is better than your brand’!

Mystery Bags in New York



Once upon a time in 1970’s New York, mysterious brown paper bags began appearing in the hands of shoppers. These bags were quite unremarkable in every way. The store name was left off, and in simple dark brown letters it read ‘big brown bag’. Only those in the know ‘got it’, making everyone else want to be in the know.

So unexceptional were the bags that they became chic and were proudly flaunted. But soon the truth was out. This iconic paper bag became unequivocally associated with Bloomingdales.

These nameless, simple bags are still being used today, and in a nod to the enduring symbol, rather than a ‘cart’ or ‘basket’, Bloomingdales’ online store invites you to put your coveted items in a virtual ‘brown bag’.

The Guardian Lions

Who dares enter Mitsukoshi’s flagship store in Tokyo, under the watchful gaze of two imposing lions? Inspired by the lions surrounding Nelson’s column in London, the mascots arrived in 1914 at a time when Japanese retailers were engaging in dizzying bouts of architectural one-upmanship.

Due to an acute shortage of metals during the second world war, the military apparently acquired the lions to be melted down for weapons manufacturing. But they were spared and continue to grace the store entrance today.


The Mitsukoshi Lions bear an uncanny resemblance to Stephen and Stitt, the twin guardians of many of HSBC (Hong Kong Shanghai Banking Corporation) offices around the world. They became distinctive icons in their own right in Hong Kong and Shanghai, with a pair also in London. Debuting in the mid-1930’s, the Hong Kong lions became objects of reverence and focal point of the bank’s great feng shui. Today young couples still bring their toddlers to stroke the paws and noses of the statues, hoping for good luck and prosperity.

If you go down to Harrods today…

Harrods Bear 2016.png

You may believe Winnie the Pooh comes from Hundred Acre Wood, but actually he was born a long, long time ago in Harrods.

The inspiration for A.A. Milne’s beloved creation was purchased by his wife from the London department store in 1921. Since then, much like Christopher Robin and pals, Harrods and teddy bears have been inseparable.

Policemen bears, Beefeater bears, any bears you can think of can be found at Harrods. The culmination of Harrods’ extreme bear love comes to a head every Christmas with the unveiling of the annual limited edition festive bear. These have ranged from the loveable fluff-ball called ‘Snow Bear’ in 1986 to 2016’s bear, ‘Hugh’, who had a starring role in a Christmas commercial, saving Harrods ‘the palace’ from a wintry spell that threatened to ruin Christmas.

Mascots and motifs like teddy bears and cool paper bags can often represent brands better than any human spokesperson. They reel us in with a compelling backstory, something memorable that’s likely to stick in our minds.

And so, they all shopped happily ever after…

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