How an Old War Poster Lost for 60 Years Became a Modern-Day Sensation

The story of 'Keep calm and carry on'

The origin of the phrase "Keep calm and carry on" and its place in popular culture is traced in Temujin Doran's short film below, which has garnered almost a million YouTube views in less than a month. The text was originally commissioned for British propaganda posters during World War II, though relatively few copies were produced. The slogan was all but forgotten until one of the posters turned up about a dozen years ago in a box of volumes bought by Barter Books, a large antiquarian bookshop in northern England. That discovery inspired a campaign of considerable commercial innovation, with the decades-old "tagline" (less popular in its day than "Freedom is in peril. Defend it with all your might") resonating with a new generation. Poster reprints proved popular, followed by mugs, T-shirts, postcards, tea towels (fussy Brits!) and other paraphernalia. There's even an iPhone app. Kudos to Barter, a purveyor of old media—and secondhand wares at that; we're talking old old media—for taking those five words to heart and thinking outside the book to turn "Carry on" into a cottage industry. (The new video is a pretty great ad for the bookstore, too.) Such perseverance is true to the spirit of the line's creators. Ultimately, the words have transcended their original purpose by resonating with harried modern-day folks, providing a simple, soothing mantra for the skirmishes on the battlefield of daily life. As for folks who deride it as a cliché—quit carrying on, OK?

Join Dwyane WadeJulian DuncanAndrea BrimmerRick Gomez and more at Brandweek Masters Live, on Sept. 14-17, for main stage insights, in-depth Masterclasses and more. Register now (early-bird rates expire 9/1)

@DaveGian David Gianatasio is a longtime contributor to Adweek, where he has been a writer and editor for two decades. Previously serving as Adweek's New England bureau chief and web editor, he remains based in Boston.