Thursday, December 14, 2006

Mythologize Me!

Seth Godin wrote the other day about Brand as Mythology. (And a nod to Maura Welch at Boston Business Filter, who had a brief post on this today.) Here's Seth making his case.

Most of us remember the mythology stories they taught us in school (Zeus and Thor and the rest of the comic-like heroes.) Myths allow us to project ourselves into their stories, to imagine interactions that never took place, to take what's important to us and live it out through the myth.

There are dozens, if not hundreds of entertainment mythological brands. James Bond and Barbie, for example.

But it goes far beyond that.

There's clearly a Google mythology and a Starbucks one was well. We feel differently about brands like these than we do about, say Maxwell House or Random House.

Why do Santa and Ronald McDonald have a mythology but not Dave at Wendy's or the Burger King?

This is all very interesting to think about, but is there really any there there? Do Google and Starbucks truly have "mythologies"?

Not by the definition that Seth gives. What about Google or Starbucks "allows us to project into their stories"? I prefer the apparently unmythic Dunkin' Donuts to Starbucks, but I do google, often and early. And I guess by some wild stretch, by googling something I'm "taking what's important to me" at that very point in time, but am I "living it out through the myth" when I google on bulky non-wool yarn so that I can make a scarf for my cousin who's allergic to wool? I mean, Starbucks and Google may be hot, compelling brands. But mythic? The only thing that strikes me as mythic about Google is their share price. But maybe I'm missing something here. Back to Seth:

So, if I were trying to invent a mythic brand, I'd want to be sure that there was a story, not just a product or a pile of facts. That story would promise (and deliver) an heroic outcome. And there needs to be growth and mystery as well, so the user can fill in her own blanks. Endorsement by a respected ruler or priest helps as well.

The key word, I think, is spiritual. Mythological brands make a spiritual connection with the user, delivering something that we can't find on our own... or, at the very least, giving us a slate we can use to write our own spirituality on.

Granted, Google can "deliver something that I can't find on our own." Not bulky acrylic wool. I actually could have found that on my own. But I probably couldn't have found out that the boy I had a crush on in fifth grade is a potter living in Oregon. That I did need Google for.

I do stumble on the "key word" - spiritual. And that's not the only problem I'm having here. For one thing, myths are stories that have stood the test of time. Maybe in two-thousand years - perhaps when we've circled back to some kind of oral history that will actually be telepathic and not spoken - people will be telling tales of Google and Starbucks. (Come to think of it, Google kind of sounds like it could have been Thor's dog or pesky younger brother.) But we're not going to know that for a while yet, now are we?

And other things cited as mythic in the post, well, I found the going kind of hit or myth. Santa Claus, yes. But Ronald McDonald? And then there's the definition of mythology (lifted, I'll say, from one of Seth's mythic brands: Wikipedia):

The word mythology (Greek: μυθολογία, from μυθος mythos, a story or legend, and λογος logos, an account or speech) literally means the (oral) retelling of myths – stories that a particular culture believes to be true and that use supernatural events or characters to explain the nature of the universe and humanity. In modern usage, mythology is either the body of myths from a particular culture or religion (as in Greek mythology, Egyptian mythology, or Norse mythology) or the branch of knowledge dealing with the collection, study and interpretation of myths.

Here's where I lose Seth. Starbucks, Google, and Ronald McDonald may have plenty to say about our place and time, but I'm hard pressed to see how they help "explain the nature of the universe and humanity."

For that, I think we need to look to philosophy, literature, and - yes indeed - mythology.

But from a marketing perspective, Seth is - as always - on to something, and that's that everyone loves a good story, and if you can build your brand around that good story, the more people will like - or maybe even love - your brand compared to a brand with equivalent products and services, but a not very interesting story to tell. Take creation myth. Wouldn't we rather hear about the two guys who designed the most-important-product-ever on a cocktail napkin...and the very next day, one of them was killed trying to race the idea into an investor...and all that survived the crash was the cocktail napkin...so the surviving partner, who ended up marrying the first guy's beautiful widow......Than listen to some arid story about two MBAs who just wanted to make a buck? Or no story at all?

1 comment:

katrog said...

I think the word he was looking for was "cult" not myth--and I don't mean cult in the let's all suck down some grape Kool-aid sense.

People buy into the Starbucks and Googles of the world because they gain something from being in the know, part of the in crowd, hipper than the average bear. Once those things/goods/services take over the world they will fade into the moldy oldie category and be replaced by the next big thing while it still the next small thing. I hardly think we'll be worshipping at their altars forever. Although here's the place where I wish I had a time travel machine or a better speculative fiction imagination:)

katrog