Book review: "Brandfather: John Murphy, The Man Who Invented Branding"

Most of us like to read the story of successful people. And there are few personalities in the IP world whose aura is so identified with success as that of John Murphy. Murphy's name may not be well-known for the under 40's crowd, since his glory days were in the 1980's and 1990's, when he created Interbrand and quickly turned it into a (the?) pioneer in the emerging field of branding and brand valuation. Having sold the company in 1993, Murphy has been engaged since that time mainly in specific business projects. Nevertheless, for those who recall him in his full active glory, the publication of his short memoir, "Brandfather: John Murphy, The Man Who Invented Branding", promises a chance to relive those times from the vantage of a person who was central to it all.

What the reader gets is a large dose of the author, as he interweaves himself into numerous anecdotes, taking us down the path of his career since the 1970's. Murphy recounts how he moved from a job in corporate planning to the creation of a brand naming (e.g., PROZAC and ZENECA) and trademark prosecution company to the establishment of Interbrand and, in particular, the development of the field of brand valuation. In doing so, he seems to have a wonderful recollection of personalities and events, reminding us how little things can have a huge impact on one's business trajectory. Murphy did not intend to become a brand naming or brand valuation guru, but he was adept in spotting opportunities and taking advantage of them.

This reviewer found Murphy's description of how his team managed to turn a commission for valuation into the foundation for the field of brand valuation of particular interest ("… indeed, establish the entire concept and grab the market for ourselves"). As he tells it, the seminal work was done literally over a weekend later to be validated by the professional and academic community. To be clear, this is not a book about learning the art (and science?) of brand valuation. Murphy has published others works in this vein for those who wish to learn how it is done (e.g., here). Rather, it is an account about how circumstance, vision and grit can be brought to bear to make the most of a business opportunity. In reading the book, the words "first mover", "luck" and "fun" come to mind. All three terms seem to have been significant components in Murphy's success.

Murphy does not suffer from shyness or self-deprecation; he often reminds the reader that the book is ultimately about him. Also a bit more context would have been nice, such as the rise in corporate interest in the 1980's in something called brands (think about the iconic end-of-the year 1988 cover story that appeared in The Economist—"The Year of the Brand"). But that is also the charm of the book. Murphy has enjoyed a singular career that continues to impact on the way that trademarks and brands are treated. More power to him. For those who want a narrow window into how this came about, go out and read this slim volume.

Brandfather: John Murphy, The Man Who Invented Branding, by John Murphy, 184 pages,The Book Guild Ltd., 2017, ISBN:978 1911320 357, is available here.

Review by Neil Wilkof
Book review: "Brandfather: John Murphy, The Man Who Invented Branding" Book review: "Brandfather: John Murphy, The Man Who Invented Branding" Reviewed by Neil Wilkof on Thursday, February 16, 2017 Rating: 5


  1. I worked with John Murphy from 1986 to 1990, a period that coincided with the launches of Trademark World, Patent World and Copyright World as well as the birth of MARQUES and the rise of the PTMG - projects that John either initiated or passionately and energetically supported. He was both inspirational and visionary, with an unparalleled eye for turning a one-off opportunity into a viable business plan. It was a privilege to work with him. I still recall the great sense of excitement in the office ahead of the Rank Hovis McDougall brand valuation project, even among those of us who were not directly involved in the methodology and the maths. If John was too modest to blow his own trumpet a bit, I'd be happy to do it for him.

  2. I have worked with him too, albeit not as an employee. He helped us as a city when we (Norwich) were bidding for European Capital of Culture status, very generous with his time and knowledge. A great guy for a campaign as he really likes to get behind a cause. We got to know him quite well as although confident, he was/is also not stuck up or pompous. Glad that he is getting some credit for his own personal story (along with his wife and partners too)


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