Beanz Meanz Heinz, arguably the greatest British ad slogan of all time – at least according to industry bible Creative Review – celebrates its 50th anniversary this year. To mark the occasion, Heinz has launched a website that invites baked bean lovers to personalise a can of beans for themselves. Yes, for £1.50 + £2.99 P&P, you can acquire a can of tomato-coated haricots bearing your very own name (presumably, at £4.49 all in, to keep on the shelf than rather eat). But it’s not the price of beans that’s important here; it’s the personalisation part.
Yes, personalisation is a thing. As anyone who has recently got married, had a child, had a birthday or had an anniversary of something knows, it is now a big deal in the realm of good gifting. It’s permeating the retail space, including the homewares market, and especially fashion.
There are the traditional brands such as Smythson and Tiffany that call to our nostalgic sense of how things used to be, which have been offering personalised goods to well-heeled clients since the beginning of everything. And there are the smaller, boutique brands that are offering personalised pieces – embroidered name caps from Bernstock Spiers, for instance. Whatever your retail trip, there’s a personalisation option for you.
But while we love something with our name on it, the smartest brands are going further – giving us the chance to show our individuality, our creativity, to tell the story of us. Case in point: NikeiDs, the fully customisable kicks still exciting sneakerheads since launching in 1999 – inspiring the luxury industry to follow suit. Now, upping the game online, marketplaces like notonthehighstreet are allowing access to small-scale creatives making personalised products with a story to tell into an art form, be it maps of a milestone trip – personalised with exact routes and stop-off points – or jewellery engraved with a loved one’s handwriting.
Personalisation has a long history, stretching back to the coin insignias of ancient Greece. Then came the merchant and guild marks of the middle ages, followed by a few hundred years when nobility and royalty took on the habit of stamping their ciphers on all sorts of things – especially on the extravagant buildings they’d erected.
Monogramming in the sense that we know today took off in the Victorian era – the time when a new, upwardly mobile middle class was developing, and there was a move towards becoming – or at the very least appearing – wealthy. Hence the personalisation of goods suddenly became the dernier cri, and people began applying signs of their identity and individuality to all manner of personal items in earnest, running from plates and notepaper to entire carriages and luggage (see Louis Vuitton’s interlocking initials circa 1896). The rest, of course, is history.
Like the Victorians, we are living in an age of great social and technological change – which may go some way to explaining why personalisation of goods and fashion has returned in such a big way over recent years. Perhaps as we contemplate a world flooded with mass-market items and a zillion same-y Instagram accounts, the need to stand out from the crowd becomes ever stronger. Or perhaps the rise of social media careers based around the individual has created a need for the ultimate expression in self-branding.
There’s also the point that the seemingly non-stop pace of daily life has created a need to get back to basics and make things a bit more, well, unique. And if you don’t have the know-how to make something from scratch, personalising a gift can make something extra meaningful; working with an expert to show your special someone that you remembered, that you care – a rather sweet example being star maps by print company GreaterSkies, depicting the real night sky at a chosen date and time.
After all, while a bottle of scent says I love you, a bespoke concoction of favourite flowers says I know you. Jewellery says I remembered your birthday, but jewellery engraved with the date of your first date says I remember everything. And when you can say as much as that with just one gift, it seems a wasted opportunity not to.
For unique, customised, thoughtful gifts from the UK’s best small creative businesses, visit notonthehighstreet.com
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