California State University, Long Beach
Inside CSULB Logo

Branding In His Sights

Published: December 2, 2014

“Mythical Moments in Remington Brand History” was a topic this June at the Myth and the Market Conference held in Carlingford, Ireland, where Marketing’s Terry Witkowski examined the roots of branding through the sights of a gun.

The Director of International Business Programs at in CSULB’s College of Business Administration is the co-author of the 2013 article titled “The Advertising of E. Remington and Sons: The Creation of an Economic Brand, 1854-1888” in the Journal of Historical Research in Marketing. On the same recent European tour, Witkowski also presented “Consumer Culture Historiography: Lessons from the Work of Russell W. Belk” at the Consumer Culture Theory Conference held at Helsinki’s Aalto University in June. While in Finland, he presented “The Macromarketing Field and Its Journal” at the Hanken School of Economics. Versions of this presentation also were given at Saitama University, Tokyo Station Campus, May 24, and Meiji University, Surugadai Campus, May 26.

Witkowski explained that at least half his research is in the area of business, marketing, and consumer history.

“Branding is a very important topic in marketing today and in the history of marketing,” explained the member of the university since 1982. “Remington ran ads from 1850s until the original Remington Company was liquidated in 1888. But although the company was liquidated, they kept the Remington brand name and the name has had a succession of owners and products. In the late 19th century, Remington manufactured typewriters. That firm later morphed into Remington-Rand which, in turn, merged with Sperry. There were Remington shavers in the 1930s.”

One reason for the survival of the legendary American brand is the power of myth. “There are certain periods and events in a brand’s evolution that can assume the stature of myth or what I call the `mythical moment,’” he explained. “The nature and meaning of the brand undergoes an acceleration. There were three such periods in the evolution of the Remington brand name.”

The first myth dealt with the founding of the Remington brand name when the founder forged his first rifle barrel in 1816. The second mythical moment arrived in the 1870s with a legendary rifle competition that saw American rifles beat a team from Ireland. “The U.S. won on the last shot,” he said. “Following that, target shooting became a big sport in the U.S. Remington capitalized on the victory and used it in their advertising.” The third mythical moment came in the Roaring 20s when the company began sponsoring store display window contests for dealers.

“Anyone who carried Remington products such as sporting goods stores created display windows,” Witkowski recalled. “Display windows are a three-dimensional way of drawing people into another world. Big department stores in France and the United Kingdom such as Selfridge’s were pioneers in dressing windows. L. Frank Baum founded a journal on store windows in 1897 and published a book on the topic in 1900, the same year he published The Wonderful Wizard of Oz.”

Witkowski believes each mythical moment demonstrates the evolution of branding. “Most marketing today is still of the moment so researchers interested in brand history look at shorter periods,” he said. “By studying the Remington brand, I found I could look at much longer periods that covered nearly 200 years. Plus, it helps to explain how gun culture has become so deeply embedded in U.S. society.”

Authors of myths can be many parties beginning with the founding business.

“Companies often try to create myths about themselves. Currently, the Remington Firearms Company has a clothing offshoot called 1816 Remington. In terms of product names, it borrows from the past,” he said. “But there are other authors of myths including consumers. There are Apple consumer groups and Harley Davidson consumer groups. These are the second authors of myths. The media became involved through movie and TV product placement. Look at the effect on Ray-Ban sunglasses thanks to their appearance in `Top Gun.’ Corporate mythmaking is a collaborative process.”

Since January 1, 2010, Witkowski has been editor-in-chief of the Journal of Macromarketing and will continue through his second term until the end of 2015. He received his B.A. from Northwestern University in 1970, his M.S. from UCLA in 1972 and his doctorate from UC Berkeley in 1980.

Witkowski was pleased with his Carlingford presentation and plans to continue his research into the visual politics of American firearms. “The American gun culture manipulates images and rhetoric to advance their interests, but I am neither a hunter not a shooter. It is possible to study the brand without sharing the politics of the gun culture,” he said.