Brands as Modern Myths

Myth making is doomed
[From here]

Products are less important than stories
[From here]

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.

One of these conversations was with Doug Holt, author of How Brands Become Icons, which explores similar territory from a slightly different point of view.

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:

'this isn't to say stories aren't important' and 'it's still storytelling - just done differently'.

[If anything, myths are stories that contain truths, not the other way around]

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:

We are “meaning-seeking creatures”.

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.

Download Logocentrism - Brands as Modern Myths - Faris Yakob

Dreams of 2088

On Saturday I went to see The Hangover...

[I was going to go sea kayaking but hey, it rained. Whatever. It's awesome. The movie I mean. Not the rain. Although I have nothing against rain. It's awesome in its own way.]

...and I saw this trailer. It's wonderful. And then I saw that it was in fact a trailer for some web films Honda is doing, with leading thinkers from within and without, and I was blown away.

I write, and think, about the future a lot. I'm a stated meliorist, and think its incumbent on all of us to think about the future when things are changing this fast, because thinking about the present stops being relevant so very quickly.

But getting people to think about 2088 is a lovely piece of projective legerdemain. It's impossible to attempt any realist projection of course, but allows you to totally free your mind from the shackles of possibility.

It moves the conversation away from when will the recession end and towards the realm of dreams.

The responses show the various interests of the minds involved [including Mitchell Joaqium, who spoke at SpringFest] and subtly makes the point that the future is built with the power of dreams, and that Honda are working on it right now.

It's part of a series of documentary films about Honda, and things that are important to the people at Honda:

Honda is a company founded by a dreamer. And we are a company that believes in the Power of Dreams.

Honda has a rich history of making impossible dreams come to fruition....

We wanted to document our advancement as a company through film to give you a better understanding of the people behind our products. Please join us as we uncover Honda through the candid approach of the documentary film process.

The language they use is telling.

This is an accelerating world. Brands are like sharks - if they don't keep moving, they die. So a company like Honda has to communicate that it is constantly advancing.

This is a social world, and social stuff is about people, especially the people inside your company connecting to the people outside it.

This is a transparent world and the tropes of documentary are being used to create transparency in a very, very controlled way, to dispel the illusion of illusion that is created by the social construct / meaning of 'advertising'.

{Of course, this documentary film IS advertising, but that's not how it chooses to describes itself.}

Brand Heritage and Marketing the Unmarketable

Tubular Belle tigs

Over on Twitter, @paulejgraham shouted out an ad, presumably from the agency he works for:

Quick trumpet blow (soz)... Richard Branson just called this the best ad made by any Virgin company, ever:

It's cute - and whether or not you admit to being shallow, there has long been talk about which airlines has the hottest stewards.

It reminded me of the Virgin Atlantic flight I took back on my way back. Virgin Atlantic appropriated the military trope of painted ladies on the nose cone, and just like on bombers they have different names.

Because I am a brand geek, this one really tickled me. You probably know why already.

In 1973 Mike Oldfield had been knocked back by every major label because his music was considered 'unmarketable'.

Demos got to The Manor recording studio, which was being run by Richard Branson. He decided to take a punt on it and Tubular Bells became the first album on Virgin Records, essentially the foundation stone of the entire Virgin empire.

Thus Tubular Belle.

Virgin was built on the idea of marketing the unmarketable - a heritage worth celebrating.

Brand Karma

View SlideShare presentation or Upload your own. (tags: digital google)

Neil has written a lovely deck about why generosity is the future of marketing and how to start being generous.

It ties together a bunch of different things I've been thinking about, making me realise that they aren't really different things at all:  being nice, making people happy, considering the fact that messaging may not be as important as the emotions we can elicit, the belief that brands should do GOOD THINGS, building longer term relationships looking towards a longer term reward, an ongoing affection or affiliation that delivers ongoing returns, rather than focusing too restrictively on the short term sale.

Or, to put it another way, brand karma.



Democreated is hoping to crowdsource a brand from scratch.

By filling out the questionnaire you help shape the nature and focus of the brand and receive partial ownership of it.

The site launched yesterday and after 100 days they are going to sell the democreated brand to any company willing sell a product that adheres to the principles and guidelines that have been voted for.

If the sale goes through they will share the proceeds with all the owners.

In some ways this is an idea that every single agency has had at some point and no one has ever done:

We build brands, what better way to demonstrate how good we are at that than creating a brand from scratch! One that doesn't even have a product attached to it!

[An agency in Spain is behind the idea]

The beauty of the Internet is that thought experiments like this can suddenly become real.

[Thanks to Magali]

Bring on the Trumpets!

Question: who do we make ads for?

OK, technically the answer is clients, obviously, but, as Gossage was fond of saying, our first responsibility isn't to the product, it's to the audience.

Let's then look at a difference of opinion in relation to the ad above [which is clearly awesome - but then the nature of aesthetics is by definition subjective, so what do I know?].

Anonymous creative over on the always excellent Scamp:

check out some of the most dismal ads on God's clean Earth.

Then look at the comments on Youtube:

These adverts are my new favourite tv show. :D

What is that bear shouting "BRING ON THE TRUMPETS" for, i dont get it, it does make me laugh for some reason tho....its quite funny!

lol! this advert is mint!

Hehehehehe :-D no idea why, but just tickles me so. Damn I love it!!! :-D and the pinapples one is great too :-D BRING ON THE TRUMPETS!!!!!!! :-D (makes me happy :-)

Every so often a TV ad pops up that makes you consciously want to buy that product over any other. TNCC have just made 4. Whoever came up with these needs a medal. :)

This is awesome. Don;t know why, don;t even care.
More please MORE

OMG i cant express how grateful i am that u posted this! i thought id dreamt it and all my friends thought i was crazy lol

officially the best advert ever made ever.

And so on.

In fact, since yesterday, when it was posted, over 50 people have commented and not one said anything negative.

Bring on the trumpets.

[UPDATE - I like this even more now - check the website - no more free sweets [which was a NICE idea] but still lovely.]

He Thinks He's People

Noah said some good stuff on stage at PSFK that we've been talking about for a while [that he kindly, falsely attributes to me]: that brands need to act like people, especially in a digital context.

We naturally anthropomorphize everything. We can't help it - we're incredibly solipsistic. But it's also because most of our big ol' brains evolved to help us understand other people. It's really very complex. I have to model how you might respond to what I might say, and how it might influence them and so on.

So we see faces in everything and think computers are out to get us when they crash with that deck unsaved.

Stephen King picked up on this. Hence the idea of brand personality was born and agencies began to attempt to link specific personality attributes to products.

But they didn't act like people.

Now, if brands want to play in our social media spaces, if they want to come to our party, they have to act like people. By being nice. And charming. And polite. By asking our names, or getting us a drink. By being interesting. Or useful. Or flirtatious.

Not just shouting about how great they are the whole time.

PVR Pressure or Do Brands Need to Create Content Anymore?


My mate Nancy is involved with an ecard start up called someecards:

for when you care enough to hit send.

They have a panoply of wonderfully offensive electronic missive material for your delectation.

I chose this one because it references an interesting media behaviour that I keep noticing.

There's too much media. Too much content constantly crying out for attention. So we develop tools to manage the flow, allowing us to timeshift and placesshift how we consume content. But there are only so many hours in the day. 

Content keeps building up, in the PVR, the RSS reader, the inboxes, the media streams.

And if you leave the stream for a couple days, there's this huge backlog of content that needs to be cleared.

I've got to go home tonight - I've got loads of stuff on Sky Plus I need to get through.

PVR pressure. Email overload. RSS distress. 

I just delete everything in my inbox / feedreader.

Too much of a good thing and it becomes a chore. The signal to noise ratio gets confused, because, when there is too much signal, it becomes noise.

Which leads me to wonder. About brands and that.

Brands have grown up using content to communicate.

But do we really need more content? Or are we tense enough as it is?

Perhaps there are other things brands could do, rather than adding to the ever-expanding infinity, to be entertaining or useful. To earn some attention.

Someone has to help alleviate all this tension.

Could the future of brands be in collation, curation, aggregation, dissemination, navigation, catalysation (insert other words that end in -ation of your choice here) - rather than traditional creation?

[UPDATE: Mr. Sorrell doesn't agree.]

Hidden Bonus


I love this logo.

It's everywhere in New York - on vans and shops - and every time I see it it makes me smile.

I point it out to people and each time they're surprised.

Can you see it?

Look closely.


OK - look at the negative space between the E and X. This picture really highlights it. 

Now what do you see?

The arrow is practically subliminal - you almost never notice it unless it's been pointed out - but once you see it you it jumps out every time.

It's a masterpiece of design - transforming a mundane and over used symbol, designed to communicate speed and precision, and elevating it into something beautiful and rewarding.

The designer, Lindon Leader, sums up the effect:

The power of the hidden arrow is simply that it is a “hidden bonus.” Importantly, not “getting the punch line” by not seeing the arrow, does not reduce the impact of the logo’s essential communication.

It's similar to the layered meanings that that Jason discussed here. The design rewards the viewer when they 'get it', but not 'getting it' doesn't detract from it's ability to communicate. Rather, it adds another layer to be appreciated.

What's more, the hidden device becomes a social object of sorts - a piece of social currency:

I can’t tell you how many people have told me how much fun they have asking others “if they can spot ‘something’ in the logo.”

Easter eggs have long been a feature of films and games - the hidden message or object rewards those who are more involved and digging them out triggers the formation of knowledge communities - it seems like a very sensible trope for brand communicators to embrace. 

A hidden bonus is a great way to start conversations.