Since time immemorial, man has created aspects of divinity as a yardstick for his own ambitions.
Inasmuch as the gods were a force to reckon with, they were also a tool used in the service of man — his ideals, his goals, his thirst for power, influence and control over his environment. A call to arms, therefore, was based on ‘the will of god,’ great calamities were ‘an act of god,’ territorial expansion was in ‘the name of god,’ and the Crusades, after all, were for ‘God, Glory (and mostly) Gold’. Without the active role of gods, man’s cultural and economic evolution would be like the WonderBra — a mere illusion.
I jest, of course. But the dynamics of creating gods is a bit like the dynamics of creating brands. Like the pharaohs and oracles of yesteryear who had an exclusive connection with the higher-ups, we have the brand custodians of today. Their job is simple: To ensure that the brand (defined here as an idea that people live by) is never abused. By policing and guarding the ‘god-brand,’ they ensured its sacred and privileged place in our hearts and minds. What’s more, each ‘god-brand’ came with its own brand guidelines. The ‘bible’ of branding gods, so to speak. The desired result was ‘spirituality’. Or what brand custodians today would call ‘brand equity.’
But omnipotence wasn’t the only thing the gods represented. Their function was also to validate and support our choices — like a celebrity peer-group. So much so, that for every human emotion, there was a divine personification: a deity whose choices and struggles were designed to inspire. And these was ‘broadcast’ through artfully branded myths. As Roland Barthes‘ Mythologies reads, “ may be purely fictional accounts. But they also have some relationship to natural or historical phenomena — they explain, illuminate and invest with our imagination.” We gave gods life and status because they gave us validity and credibility for the way we think, feel and act. What an important lesson for today’s communicators.
When we tap into the validating power of a myth, then we tap into the very fibre of our collective imagination. But don’t take my word for it. Just compare the gods of 2000 B.C. to the (material) gods of 2000+ A.D. the next time you chew on a Mars bar or think of the red planet (God of War), or wear a pair from Nike (Goddess of Victory), buy posters from Athena (Goddess of Wisdom & Crafts), dress up in Hermes (God of Travel & Merchants) or spread Flora (Goddess of all that Flourishes) for breakfast. Of course, you could also dismiss this as being ‘greek’ to Pakistan and file a complaint at Aurora (Goddess of Dawn — or, Pakistan’s leading marketing bi-monthly published by the DAWN Group of Newspapers).
But the strategy today is not to tap into the power of old myths (because as any advertising person will tell you, ‘old ain’t necessarily gold’), but to create and tap into the power of new myths. Some might call this creating hype and profiting from it. But it’s more than that. It’s about how new ways of life in a post-traditional society can become ‘invested with imagination’. If new ways of life are skeletal and incomplete, then new myths can package and brand them as living possibilities. By validating the new, we automatically create the credibility the market is looking for to endorse their burgeoning choices. By inflecting choices rather than reflecting them, we can create new markets instead of competing for space on an already cramped mental shelf.
And what do brand custodians ‘mythologize’ about today? Look around. In any conversation, in any grouping of two or more persons, you can trace the threads of what it means to be living today. New myths are all around us (single parenthood, distance learning, new man, career woman, junior citizen, working from home, middle youth, virtual marriage, aunty culture, brokered dating, GT’s, home boutiques, etc.) but very few of us in the industry have captured them as branding opportunities.
But there is also a new ‘myth’ that is fast capturing and firing the nation’s imagination. Jump-started by Herald magazine, the idea of New Pakistan is a branding opportunity waiting to be romanced. Like former British PM Tony Blair’s New Britain platform that won him his first term in office, it’ll be interesting to see how New Pakistan would be branded and carried forward not just in the forthcoming elections, but by the brand custodians who want to lead from the edge.
Until then, it’s Godspeed from me.