What do ancient gods have to teach modern brands?

“Myth is the portal through which the inexhaustible energies of the cosmos pour into our world.”- Joseph Campbell

Human society is paradoxical. On the surface, we are ever-changing, fickle, mutable. In this century, new gadgets, technologies and micro-trends are popping up by the minute with no signs of slowing down. As marketers, we have to be aware of these currents and be “au courant” in every sense of the phrase.

On a deeper level, however, we seem to be unchanging; genetically and spiritually, we’re built to adhere to certain principles that live outside of time, place and circumstance. The great 19th century German philosopher and the father of modern anthropology, Adolf Bastian, called these principles “elementargedanken”. Roughly translated, these “elementary ideas” were later termed “archetypes” by Karl Jung, and further studied by the brilliant Joseph Campbell.

Looked at in this way, there are certain eternal principles that emerge as a powerful backdrop for branding and marketing—and for explaining mass behaviour and our tendencies as a species.

As Nietzsche wrote, one of the eternal dichotomies of the human species is the dual archetype of Dionysus, the Greek god of wine and celebration (called Bacchus by the Romans), and Apollo, the god of light, rational thinking and order.

If you look at our world from a bird’s eye view (or from the International Space Station, where Canadian astronaut Chris Hadfield made remarkable observations about how similar we are across the human species), you’ll notice that nearly every culture expresses this duality through, among other things, the emergence of major cities within the same country:

  • Brazil: Sao Paolo (Apollonian) and Rio (Dionysian)
  • Canada: Toronto (Apollonian) and Montreal (Dionysian)
  • Spain: Madrid (Apollonian) and Barcelona (Dionysian)
  • China: Beijing (Apollonian) and Shanghai (Dionysian)
  • Italy: Milan (Apollonian) and Rome (Dionysian)
  • Australia: Melbourne (Apollonian) and Sydney (Dionysian)

The list goes on and on.

We even divide our days between the two. You will rarely see someone drunk at the office; it simply isn’t condoned or allowed (other than at 4 p.m. on Friday at an advertising agency!). The work day belongs to Apollo. But after 5 o’clock, happy hour sets in, the evening ‘uncorks’ and we let our hair down. Nights and weekends are the domain of Dionysus.

What happens when we look at our world from the eyes of the gods? Do we see patterns that we might otherwise miss when we’re in the weeds, or lost in the forest? Can we occasionally lift ourselves up to their vantage point so we can help our clients find the mythos behind their purpose and take their rightful place in the pantheon of brands?