Brands — The New Pantheon

Jacqueline Hill MDes | The Glue Sessions | Designasaw

Brands

 

This paper explores the elevation of ‘brands’ to a near religious status within present day society. It aims to provide some considerations into the consumer’s identification with the dominant brands by focusing on influential communication and semiotic vehicles such as ancient symbol paradigms and neo archetypes.

The influence of Jungian, and more current definitions, by Faber and Mayer, of archetypes on branding strategies provides a rich area for investigation within visual communication. By parodying the meaningful activities and sacred symbols and marks of the ancient world, brands aim to unlock powerful human motivators, which may, as Thomas Moore suggests, ‘re-soul’ the contemporary world. Moore speaks of “A made thing also has a soul. We can become attached to them and find meaningfulness in them, along with deeply felt values and warm memories.” (1992, p.270 )

Today’s brands have a face and a soul made of an amalgam of calculated, curated, and philosophical attributes.The face of a brand encompasses all the tangible elements of visual communication, as well as the end product or service it supplies to the consumer. While the soul of the brand, is based on intangible aspects through its inferred brand value, essence, neo-archetypal persona and ultimately, its interaction with the individual consumer.

In the 1980s Solomon (1983) and Beth (1988) theorized that products define social roles, and could “extend” a sense of self. However by the end of the 80s, a shift had occurred seeing brands, and not their products, as the supplier of the sense of self, and a definer of social roles ‘shaping both the personal and group identity. Vance Packard, a social critic, commented prophetically in 1960, on the shift in the motivation of the consumer: “we convert the buying and use of goods into rituals, we seek spirit satisfaction, ego satisfaction within consumption.” (1960, p.25)

Maslow stated that the goal of ritualistic consumption could be described as self-actualized (1954), which represents the sum total of all roles consumers play, and determines what the consumer does for society and what they can expect from it. (Thomas and Biddle 1979). So what inspires this almost religious devotion to brands?

‘Religion is not about god.’ (Rue, 2005)

The contemporary world is immensely informed, more so than any other past time.  And this plethora of information and choice of brands and their products and services, has facilitated the birth of a highly materialistic world, with a driving desire to connect to the tangible plane. Yet it is the mythology of a brand’s strategy and story and all the visual triggers that they engage that drives the consumer’s financial, and often, emotional decision.

The pantheon of brands and the choices they make available, referred to as ‘call finders’ by Beth, Wallendorf, and Sherry (1989) helps provide “Self transcending, and extraordinary experiences” for the consumer (Beth, Wallendorf, and Sherry 1989). And Maslow (1976) continued this observation by referring to call finders as “peak experiences – they are vertical in nature (To the heaven and thus other worldly) and are sacred.” Solomon and Anaud in 1985 stated that all rituals have heroes (because heroes start the rituals.) And If all consumption is ritualistic and all rituals have heroes, all consumption is the consumption of heroes.

This proposition parallels the psychological concepts of agency and identity as stated by Pauls, Nashy and Easton, 1990. Thus consumers are agents seeking identity. It is the role of the ‘hero (in the form of a deity, or a neo-archetype or a brand) to help bring what is unconscious to consciousness (vertical in nature). The ritual becomes socialized (cf. Beth 1989,p.7) via narrative, drama and myth (promotion / propaganda) (Raglan, 1936); the ritual becomes collective, horizontal, accepted as rational behavior, and something profane because it acts as a giant leveler.

Thus David Holt considers that the practice and engagement of sacred symbols and neo-archetypes as semiotic vehicles within brand strategy is a “modern secular example of the rituals anthropologists document in every human society” (2004. p.8). “Consumers”, he continues, “who buy into the brand’s for their identity (both personal and group) forge tight emotional and sometimes irrational connections to the brand.” (Holt, 2004, p.9).

The ancient ritual of consuming the sacrifice offered to an ancient deity by its followers/devotees parallels with the rituals of contemporary consumers/devotees of leading brands. Both hope to gain the other-worldly qualities of the super being they have consumed. The activity of consumption as ritual means that the goal of consumption is to achieve a combination of the vertical and horizontal roles for the consumer, which leads to the birth of a new neo-archetype: the consumer archetype.

Consumerism is the contemporary religion. If consumerism has evolved into a ritualistic and sacred activity supplying society, with a sense of self for the individual and the group, it is essential to look at some of the aspects of religion’s role in society is. Religion supplies a society with among other things: An expression of social needs. A tool for the ‘status quo’ in relation to control of the ‘power’ within a society. A focus upon super natural and sacred aspects of our personal and group lives. And as an evolutionary strategy for survival.

Religious beliefs are symbolic expressions of social realities without which religious beliefs have no meaning. And Evans Pritchard argued, “‘religion’ needs to be regarded as a vital aspect of society: A Construct of the heart”. It is, as Loyal Rue states, “of utmost importance for the survival and well-being of humanity.” (Rue, 2005). Thus religion constantly shifts and changes its guise as society shifts and changes, but it’s role to supply personal and group identity remains ever constant.

A brief summary based on Joseph Campbell’s observation of religious practice evolution, assists in building the argument, that contemporary consumerism and the pantheon of brands are the key foundations of a new generative global religion, and that within this new religion it is these brands who are the focus of consumers’ worship and devotion.

The way of the Animal Powers occurred Hunting and Gathering societies of pre-Bronze Age. All of nature was seen as being infused with a spirit or divine powers (nuministic in character). The central focus of this belief system was the primary hunting animal of the culture. This animal demonstrated the behavioral qualities the individual and tribe wanted to emulate, plus supplied the food and materials for the tribe’s survival (skins, horn etc). Hunting and killing the animal were key ritualistic activities and it was in the consumption of the animal, that praise was given.

The consumer of the animal believed they were consuming the super natural qualities of the animal which would protect them and possibly provide them with a higher skill set or divine power. Parallels can be seen in this ancient act of consumption and the contemporary world in which consumers of brands hope to gain personal fulfillment and social influence that is association with the specific brand. It is the abstract qualities a brand provides, and not the actual physical product, that the consumer is desirous of.

The following brief list of brands have based their VIMs on animals: Puma; John Deer; Lacoste; WWF; Greyhound USA; NBC; Merrill Lynch; Jaguar; Penguin; Qantas; Brand Australia demonstrating the engagement of this theme in their communication and identity strategy.

The way of the Seeded Earth is the time of the Early agrarian societies of the Bronze Age. The main figure of this belief system was the life-giving Mother Earth. She possessed dual aspects to her character, that of both creator (mother) and destroyer. This duality was re-enforced through the observance of the repetition of the birth and death of crops, the phases of the moon and the four seasons. The myths of this religious phase, that all life springs from and returns to the earth, were mirrored in its rituals, both symbolically and literally.

Brands that are based on Nature and plants are Unilever; BP; EPA (NSW); Apple; Adidas; The National Trust (UK); Baker’s Delight (Aus).

The ways of Celestial Lights are a part of the first high civilizations of the Classical period. This phase introduced the Super-Beings: the pantheon of gods, who were a blend of pre Bronze Age animal and nature deities, and human manifestations that represented archetypal personas and life experiences of the members of the society. Observations of the celestial bodies inspired the notion that life on earth and all individual beings were mere participants in the ’eternal cosmic play’, which was linked to the astral bodies and the forces of nature. (Campbell, 1965)

The relationship between humans and deities was based on the concept of exchange: The Gods were expected to supply a sense of well-being, identity and protection to the devotee. And in turn the devotee was expected to make offering, which were a physical expression of their thanks and loyalty to the deity with the sacrificing and then consuming of a relevant animal.
Consumption was a part of ritual and celebration. Hence Feast days = festivals / Holy days = Holidays.

There was a residue of the ‘Way of the Animal’ (Mithras and worship centered around the bull) and the ‘Way of the Seeded Earth’ integrated within this phase of religious evolution. Mother Earth was reinterpreted as the Greek goddess Demeter, whose persona is defined by the neo-archetype CAREGIVER. She was the fertility and mother goddess of the pantheon and associated with the cultivation of grain.

The VIMs that emulate the imagery and thus generate associations with the phase of ‘Celestial Lights’ and the classical pantheon trigger, as Mark observed, “the conscious power of an archetype, even in an entirely secular context, is immense in effect”. (Mark & Pearson, 2001, p.8)

The brand Nike’s name is associated the winged goddess Athena Nike, a super-being who was known for being fleet of foot. However Nike’s neo-archetypal persona is closer to the Super-being Hercules, not a god himself, but the son of Zeus. Hercules’ gift was competence and courage and his goal was to exert mastery in a way that improved the world. The rites and rituals to worship the gods allowed humanity to connect to the other-worldly, the supernatural or super beings who were the better version of the followers/devotees.

Brands that are based on the notion of ‘Celestial Lights’ are Mercedes-Benz; Texaco; Starbucks; Good Year; Nike (Athena Nike / Hercules); Greece Postal Service (Hermes), Versace, and Mobil.

The way of Man is the bases of the modern world. What essentially started with mythological themes of totem animals, nature deities, such as Mother Earth, and anthropomorphized astral bodies/archetypes, evolved into formalized contemporary religions. While there has been a disconnection from nature per se in the present day world, the primary purpose of this phase of religion is still to create a social cohesion via personal and group identity.

The ‘new mythology’ of contemporary religion is based on a focus of heroes or super beings, which have been inspired, in part, by the classical pantheon. As a pointed example of this observation, there is a strong visual similarity in the representation of the god Apollo and the Christ figure, both of whom were beautiful, young men displaying a halo (circle) of sun rays around their heads.

Brand visual identity marks (VIMs) project the philosophy of a brand into the market place. They stand as distilled visuals (symbolic marks) of the essence of the brand and enable the viewer/user to make a connection, or at least gain an insight, into the brand in an instance.

Both sacred and profane symbols associated with the different phases of religious evolution are in constant use within society’s visual language. This observation can be demonstrated through a small selection of the brand marks in current use. They echo the themes of ‘The ways of Animals’, ‘The way of Seeded Earth’ and “The way of Celestial Lights’ via a diverse range of appropriate semiotic vehicles.

Some of the global brands whose communication and identity strategy are based on the theme of ‘The way of Man’ are:  The Academy Awards, Johnny Walker Scotch Whiskey, LG, Amazon, Wella, CBS, Heart Brand (Streets), and KFC.

Once a brand’s archetypal place in the world has been clarified, the process of nourishing that identity must be carefully managed. “ A brand is a repository of rich meaning and goodwill on the part of the consumer.  Any action taken in the name of that brand enhances or nourishes the essential archetypal meaning of the brand.” (Mark & Pearson, 2001, P283). Ideas, images, symbols and rituals of religious traditions have been designed to engage and to organize human neural systems for the sake of human survival. (Stausberg, 2009, p.225).

As Campbell stated, “Mythological symbols touch and exhilarate centres of life beyond the reach of reason and coercion…The first function of mythology is to reconcile waking consciousness to the ‘mysterium tremendum et fascinans’ of the universe as it is.” (Campbell, J., (1965)) Managing emotions is seen as an essential function of culture = the education of emotions. (Stausberg, 2009, p.230). This is mediated by the use of an appropriate semiotic devices.

“Religion and magic are both built upon the uncritical association of ideas.” (Cline 31.07.17). Neo-archetype models/paradigms, in their diverse forms, answer and satisfy that internal, almost biological need within humanity. The Classical Pantheon, whose personas have been theorized as Jungian archetypes, represented the different aspects of the human experience; birth, death, war, celebration and joy, marriage, and sacrifice.

The conscious engagement of archetypes and neo archetypes in relation to building a brand strategy allows the brand and the consumer both to “tap into the collective unconscious by appealing to universal needs and differentiating between the wide range of products/commodities with in a specific category…” as stated by Margaret Mark. (2010).

“Judicious use of archetypal symbolism can fuel a leading brand. Brands themselves, overtime, take on symbolic significance.” (Mark 2010, p.7)

By employing the qualities of one of the twelve neo-archetypal personas: sage, creator, hero, ruler, lover, Innocent, caregiver, jester, outlaw, magician, every-person, explorer, a brand’s essence comes strongly into focus and deepened in complexity for the viewer/user . Each archetypal persona within the pantheon has their own set of motivations, fears, goals, gifts and concerns.

In the modern pantheon, the deities has been replaced by brands whose identity is based on a cultural neo-archetype. Each neo-archetype aims to reassure and satisfy the consumer: an archetype for technology; for lifestyle; for social desirability. Each brand / neo archetype fulfills specific aspects of the modern human/consumer experience. The employment of the appropriate neo-archetype or sacred marker / symbol within a brand strategy often sparks a sense of recognition and meaning for the consumer, thus triggering an emotional driver.

The need for something to believe in is an ever-present human condition. The classical pantheon of the archetypal gods or contemporary pantheon populated with the major brands, are the super versions of ourselves: A higher kind of us, and they have a great influence, and capacity within and on a society. They are above and beyond ‘the norm’. They aim to inspire awe. It is in the investigation and comparison of these pantheons that an understanding of how the sense of self, once supplied by the religions and cults of the past are now supplied by the major global brands.

 

RESEARCH STUDIES

Brand marketing has grown into a global practice and brands such as NIKE, Louis Vuitton, Lexus, Mercedes Benz, and iPod are now household names at global level. They have moved from cultural symbols to semiotic icons, universally recognized. Brands have strategically engaged neo-archetypes personas, which are understood to a part of fundamental human psychology of identity construction, to help build and sustain consumer loyalty. (Shu-Pei Tasi P.649)

Amid the progress of globalization, the archetype and neo-archeytype paradigm, have attracted increasing attention from brand marketing scholars, including Veen (1994(; Randazzo (1995); Mark and Pearson (2002); (Shu-Pei Tasi). Thus in reviewing the studies and research conducted over the past twenty years in this area of communication and brand strategy, one can see that the research objective in addressing Jungian archetypes and Faber and Mayer’s neo-archetypes, in relation to branding and semiotics is to “transfer theoretical principles from classic psychology to marketing strategy.” (Tsai, 2006).

These studies include McEnally and de Chernatony (1999) who demonstrated that an iconic brand “taps into higher-order values of society and can be used to stand for something other than itself “(p.12); Mark and Pearson (2001) used studies showing that the most successful brands are those that most effectively correspond to fundamental patterns in the unconscious mind known as archetypes. Yeung and Weyer (2005) conducted brand research utiziling VIMs as stimuli for representing brand association and whether popular brands could be attributed classical archetypal qualities of personas; Bengtsson and Firat’s (2006) proposition that an iconic brand constellates images that serve as a means by which people have life experiences and meanings, and through which these cultural values and meaning are communicated (p.376).

Shu-Pei Tsai’s (2006) work examined impressions of significant brands and their neo-archetypal paradigms, such as Nike and Hero, with consumers from Asia, Europe and North America. Faber’s and Mayer’s (2009) research on neo-archetypal theory suggested that people are able to recognize archetypal characteristics in various media. (Roberts, 2010), and discussed the effect of the individual archetypal persona on consumer choices.

Roberts’ (2010) study aimed to ‘lay foundational groundwork for quantitative measure of brand-archetype relationship’. Through her work, Roberts proposed that further research in this area of semiotics should examine the possible similarities and differences among cultural mythologies and international consumer archetypal connections.

An iconic brand operates within the market much in the same way a classic archetypal persona operates within the context of human history. When a brand becomes iconic, it has successfully integrated its story into the narrative of the society in which it functions, and consumers can use their relationship to that brand to tell their own stories (Roberts, 2010, p.52). “Archetypes can provide an operative paradigm or schema in which an individual can experience the world, be compelled to action, and provide a model for behavior.” (Shadraconis, 2013).

Through the appropriate semiotic triggers often inspired by ancient religious symbols and marks and or neo archetypal personas, consumers become true believers, unwavering in their faith in what brands can provide. The consumer finds security and reassurance in believing in something that is a better version of themselves. When they pay due homage, in contemporary terms, a financial transaction, the consumer will receive immediate gratification, thus a case of supply and satisfy from the brand to the consumer, a sense of self.

Brands inspire yeaning. This modern pantheon of brands enjoys a status that the consumer recognises and accordingly re-enforces. It exists in an unattainable setting, and promotes this mythical setting to consumers as a blissful place of almost unachievable satisfaction: A paradise and all that the ideal promises. It has resulted in the existence of a generative religious movement, that of the cult of the consumer.

In this context, religion is seen as fulfilling vital functions in influencing the cognitive and emotion systems of humans in a way that allows for the achievement of personal and social well-being.

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