Blunders That Helped Build Brands (I) – Angostura

Categories Branding

Brand positioning has always been one of the high sciences. Like all sciences, accuracy is the core principle here too. There is the initial market research to assess the public pulse. Then there are the brand managers, the creative directors, the media consultants who fine tune different aspects of a concept and its implementation.

Every little detail is pored over by football team sized expert groups and is passed around for months for approvals. No wonder, it is as tiring to be part of a brand launch as it is to read about it. Personally, I long for success stories which are not so exact in their details, which have their own share of drama, co-incidence, luck and errors.

In this series, I will bring to you such stories which prove that there is still hope in the world. It does not run according to any formula and it is not as unforgiving a place as we think.


The first part in the series is about Angostura, known for its bitters which are widely used in flavouring food and beverages. My experience is limited to having them cocktails and mocktails, I can’t imagine it in food. But that’s besides the point.

Angostura is named after its place of origin in Venezuela. Its creator, Johann Siegert, was a German doctor who joined Simon Bolivar in the fight against the Spanish. He soon became the Surgeon-General of the Military Hospital and continued his search for a natural cure for the ailing patients. In 1824, after years of grinding herbs and leaves, he created a blend which brought relief in cases of fevers, stomach disorders and sea sickness.  A lot happened after that and you can read it all here.

Angostura Bitter

Now, the interesting story about branding here concerns the label on the Angostura Bitters bottle. The label is much larger than the bottle and gives it a funny look. That’s the first thing any rebranding effort will change, but strangely, it has remained intact for close to two hundred years.

It is not considered funny or odd anymore. It is unique. It is a trademark of the brand that separates it from the rest. It is a famous story that any brand will pay thousands of dollars to have. Imagine, this was not a result of any branding effort. It was an error.

There are multiple stories but it all comes down to this. Someone ordered the bottles and someone else ordered the labels. They realized the mistake but pasted them together anyway. And, that’s it. That is all there is to it.

I understand there may be a lot many tid bits I am missing. You can go and trawl the internet. For me, all that matters is a fundamental mistake was made, someone decided to go ahead with it, and it ended up becoming an anecdote.

Image from Wikipedia.