President of the Bradford Dalton Group, Jeff is a former journalist with 30+ years of experience as a public relations professional.
Western culture is built on foundational myths, many from the ancient Greeks, who built an amazing collection of stories to explain who we are and why we think and feel the way we do. That is, they contain the seeds of modern psychology, which may be why two of the founders of psychology — Sigmund Freud and Carl Jung — often used Greek myths to illustrate the concepts about the mind they were exploring.
Creating a brand is fundamentally about understanding what makes consumers tick — knowing where the buttons are that tap into our unconscious so that we identify those buttons with the brand attributes of a product or service. So, why not go straight to the source? Why not use mythological understandings to market a product? In this article, I will examine a few Greek myths, find a branding message that they illustrate and suggest an example of how a business might make use of this mythological branding.
Prometheus and the Theft of Fire
Feeling sorry for humans for whom the king of gods, Zeus, did not much care, Prometheus stole fire from Hephaestus, god of blacksmithing and fire, and brought it to Earth as a gift to humans, who could use it to warm themselves, cook food and make tools, making humans a little more god-like. In retaliation, Zeus chained Prometheus to a rock in the Caucasus Mountains and sent an eagle every day to gnaw out his liver, which regenerated each evening, only to be gnawed out again the next day.
To relate this to marketing, there are some brands and even full industries that exist to stand up for the underdog, regardless of the consequences. Take the payday loans industry, for example, which provides folks with something they need but can’t get from “the man” — credit — and is an industry often criticized for the work it does. To help overcome this, a payday loan company might create an ad campaign that highlights the everyday “heroic” things its customers do to survive and thrive in a world that is not their friend.
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Theseus and the Minotaur
Every nine years, Athens was forced to send young men to the island of Crete to be cast into a vast labyrinth and be eaten by the Minotaur, a half-man, half-bull monster. Theseus, the son of the king of Athens, demanded to be part of the contingent of youth sent to the Minotaur. When Theseus arrived in Crete, the daughter of the king of Crete fell in love with him and gave him a ball of thread, which he unwound as he walked through the maze, where he found and killed the Minotaur and then followed the unrolled skein of thread to exit the maze.
My interpretation of this message as it relates to branding is: Don’t lose your way while you’re fighting monsters. That is, don’t become so focused on solving arcane problems that you forget about customers’ needs today. This is a message that could work well for a software company — because it’s easy to become enamored with features to the point that the software becomes too complicated to use. Perhaps a software company might show how the elegance and simplicity of its technology allow business owners to slay the “monsters” of inefficiency and cost overruns.
Perseus and the Gorgon Medusa
Perseus, a demigod (the son of a god and a mortal), sought to kill the monster Medusa, a woman who has snakes for hair and, thus, was so ugly that anyone who looked on her turned to stone. Perseus approached Medusa by looking at her through her reflection on his shield and then cutting off her head. He then used the severed head to turn his enemies to stone.
This story calls to mind a brand that seeks novel ways to solve supposedly intractable problems — and how the lessons learned from solving a difficult problem can give you power. To put this into a practical-use example, let’s use a plaintiff’s law firm, which often finds creative ways to turn defendants’ horrible actions against them. Perhaps such a law firm could publish a series of articles about cases they won by looking at the issues in a different way.
Orpheus and Eurydice
Orpheus played the lyre so delightfully that it charmed even rocks and rivers. One day, he fell in love with Eurydice — wooing her with his music, of course. But their blissful marriage was short-lived, for Eurydice was soon bitten by a poisonous snake and died. Heartbroken, Orpheus traveled to hell to convince Hades, the king of the underworld, to release his bride, gaining access to hell by lulling to sleep with his lyre the three-headed dog, Cerberus, that guards the underworld. Hades was also charmed and agreed to let Eurydice follow Orpheus back to the light, provided Orpheus did not turn to look at her before they had left hell. However, just as they were about to exit, Orpheus, thinking he had been tricked by Hades, turned to make sure Eurydice was behind him and lost her forever.
The brand message here is: Don’t look back until the journey’s done. Keep your head down, stay focused, don’t get distracted. I can see this myth relating to something like a business coaching firm, which is all about trusting the process, doing the work and sticking with it until results are achieved. Never looking back, always forward. Perhaps it incorporates a lyre in its logo, which would lead to questions that would allow the firm to tell its unique story.
Of course, we have just scratched the surface of the treasure of Greek myths. I suggest reading classic retellings of the myths that undergird our culture. Keep an eye for branding by teasing out the psychological truths that lie beneath the entertaining stories.
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Author: Jeff Bradford, Forbes Councils Member