One might wonder what exactly bread has to do with branding, or design, or advertising. Never mind bread from 100 years ago. But this is no normal bread. This bread is special; it’s sliced bread.

The story of sliced bread began in 1916… with a jeweler named Otto Rohwedder.

It was then that he sold his successful jewelry business, and threw all his efforts and money into what became his lifelong passion: sliced bread. It was, at the time, a revolutionary idea. After all, he reasoned, slicing bread took time, and people needed their bread sliced.

So he did what anyone in marketing would. Research. Which in 1913 consisted of placing a questionnaire as an ad in major market newspapers. This questionnaire was about as thrilling as you could imagine, asking intriguing questions such as “to what thickness do you prefer your bread sliced?“ He then went on to invent a machine that would slice the bread perfectly; no mush, no crumbs, no fuss. On the precipice of launching what was sure, to his mind, to be an instant smash success, calamity stuck: a fire destroyed his prototype machine and all the blueprints with it. Such tragedy might have sent a lesser bread-thusiast hobbling back to the world of fine gem cutting. But not Otto. He was a man on a mission. For sandwiches.

It took him another decade to rebuild, but by 1928, he was ready again, and found a buyer for his invention. The machine put out perfectly sliced bread, wrapped in wax paper in such a way that it stayed fresh. This was it! Just what millions of households all over America were waiting for. And for years…

Nobody cared.

But it wasn’t that the product was bad, no, Otto had 30,000 respondents to his questionnaire, and they couldn’t be wrong. So what was the problem?

Otto actually knew exactly what the problem was. The problem was this ad. “My bread can be sold”, he said, if a company …goes about the matter correctly. A good loaf, a proper presentation of Sliced Bread to the grocers and a truthful, clean advertising program.” Kleen Maid Bread didn’t listen, but one company did.

Wonderbread. The branding and messaging were simple and appealing. The colorful balloon design was emotional (for 1930, anyway). And it connected with consumers in a personal, authentic way: by showing how it would benefit them.

It stood out among all the competing brands of the day, and by combining a remarkable product with remarkable branding, Wonderbread achieved remarkable results—and created an entirely new category of which it was the leading brand.

Within 3 years, 80% of all bread sold in the United States was sliced bread. And it spawned a popular cliché that lives to this day.

“The Greatest Thing Since Sliced Bread.”

Now this was almost 100 years ago, and a lot of things change in that kind of timespan. But great branding doesn’t. And you can see the same principles that made Wonderbread a home run not only still working today, but more important than ever. In a world where consumers are exposed to over 10,000 ad messages a day, it’s vital that brands be able to slice (pun intended) through the noise, and connect with their audience on an emotional, personal level. The best ways to do that today are the exact same ones that Otto knew, intuitively, would work back in 1930. Beautifully simple brand presentation. Engaging your audience by illustrating how you can benefit their lives. And doing it all in an authentic way.

Technology may change. But human nature? Not so much.