The tourist industry has long recognised the potential of the Vikings and Viking history to draw visitors to Scandinavia. Branding of the Vikings in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries focused on the image of the Vikings as adventurers and great seafarers, both exploited on this poster from the 1930s featuring a colourful Viking ship and showcasing the destinations that could be reached by steamship from the United States. When we look at 'destination Viking' posters today, the style has changed, but not the image that is presented through the Viking brand.
This public domain image from the Swedish National Heritage Board was taken in Iceland in 1930, and shows a man in Viking costume at Ármann Fell, Thingvellir, posing for tourists on their own 'Viking adventure'. We might laugh at his costume, but has our exploitation of the Viking past for tourist consumption changed all that much?
The Viking Brand and Technology
Another area of branding in which the Vikings feature quite prominently is the area of engineering and technology, with particular reference to Viking ships and the popular perception that they represented the most important technalogical innovation of the early medieval period. The Rover brand has its roots in Coventry, England in 1878, when it produced bicycles. The Viking ship logo dates from the 1920s and featured as a distinctive brand until 2005. Brands such as this emphasise technical innovation, pioneering spirit, and possibly also dominance of the road!
Viking Cycles, founded 1908 (c) TBirkett
The Viking Revival
Along with the revival of interest in Norse literature and culture in nineteenth-century Scandinavia came a fascination with a romanticised image of 'the North' across Europe, particularly in Germany. Richard Wagner's 'Der Ring des Nibelungen' is perhaps the most prominent example of this preoocupation with Norse myth and a supposed shared heritage in Northern Europe, but there are less well-known monuments to this revival at the turn of the century, including this bizzare use of Freyja and her cats in 1894 to advertise meat extract.
The Leibig Company that produced this advert was the precursor to the Oxo brand. In addition to Norse gods and godesses they also featured heroes from Wagner's opera in their branding, as you can see in this image from the archive of 'La vie wagnérienne'.
There continues to be a branch of Viking branding associated with consumables, with particular emphasis on meat and alcoholic drinks.
The Politics of Branding
In 1930s Germany, Viking branding took on a new dimension, with Norse mythology, runes and Viking symbolism coming to play a key role in the iconography of the Third Reich. The populaist völkisch movement in Germany emphasised amongst other things a shared heritage amongst Northern European peoples, and such racial-nationalistic ideas were exploited by the Nazis. Propaganda / recruitment posters in occupied Norway and Denmark used the Vikings in a deeply cynical way - as an attempt to claim shared heritage and to brand the aggression of Nazi Germany as a revival of a "Viking ethos".
A less well documented example of branding in 1930s Germany is the grouping of the Syndicate of Briquette companies of the Third Reich under the name 'Troll'. Coal produced during this time was often branded with the Troll logo: the association with these supernatural beings may be with the underground extraction of the coal, or be intended to demonstrate the power of the product.