Over the course of the last week, 3 separate conversations have led me back to the first paper I ever wrote about brands, which essentially posits that brands have replaced myths in our culture.
So I thought I'd post it here and see what you all thought.
It seems like the kind of idea that comes back into view every now and again.
The quotes above highlight an interesting dialectic concerning the idea.
Toby [who is lovely and very smart] suggests in the first quote that because the internets allow people unfettered access to the truth, and enable them to tell their own stories, that myth-making is doomed.
However, he is conflating myths here with lies, and he knows it - because later on in the article it comes from he says:
Fragments of it have appeared here before no doubt, and elsewhere in stuff I have written. It was the first time I sat down and had a proper think about what I thought about brands and that.
The second quote suggests that the stories are more important than the products, and part of me agrees in the sense that the stories around the product, or provenance and corporate behaviour and cultural impact, have never been so consciously part of the decision making process, in essence because of the access to information that the internet allows.
But the product is part of the story, which we mustn't forget.
Anyway, having opposing viewpoints is good and healthy - and also plays into my model of brands as myths, as the function of myth, according to Levi-Strauss is "provide a logical model capable of overcoming a contradiction" found in culture.
A few random quotes to sample the flavour:
Duckworth points out, “brands enable us to make sense and create meanings for ourselves in the socia world of consumption in which we participate.”
Grant has suggested, brands are “ideas to live by” that we look for due to our “tradition hunger”.
The emergence of brands as myths has been triggered by the decline of standard myths in western culture.
Western modernity is “the child of logos” [the opposite of mythos in the Hellenistic tradition, it represents science and facts]. Science became the dominant paradigm for understanding the world. But logos alone is unable to give us a sense of significance – it was myth that gave life meaning and context. Thus society unconsciously cried out for and ultimately created its own myths around the newly dominant force of consumerism. Logos led us to logos.
Myths are inherently complex and polysemous; they can be interpreted in a number of equally valid ways.
Levi Strauss posited that “it is likely that languages exist in which an entire myth can be expressed in a single word”. There is – it is the language of brand.
You can read the whole paper below if you want.
I don't think the brand/myth is the only story we tell ourselves about ourselves, but it's definitely the dominant one of modern times, perhaps even more so today than when I wrote this a few years back, as every young person online begins to realise that when broadcasting your life through media fragments, you are creating an impression of who you are that is distinct from, but inextricably linked to, who you are, that is increasingly being referred to as a personal brand.