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Cultural Branding Models Leverage Cultural Myths

Based on the concept of ‘cultural branding model,’ iconic brands stand out against the pack by engaging in cultural mythology. They speak to the ideology of our time and link it to the consumer’s need to construct an identity and place within these societal norms. They do this by telling stories that reinforce our current cultural myths.

Fig 1. Cultural Brand Strategy – today’s branding model

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Iconic Figures Express Cultural Myths

Throughout history individuals have become cultural icons by channeling the zeitgeist and reflecting ideological myths of their time. Think John Lennon, JFK, Elvis, Ghandhi, Steve Jobs, Donald Trump and Richie McCaw. Personalities whose images instantly leap to mind and whose exploits reflect the themes, desires and fears of the time they operated in. In essence they’re our very identity contextualised – icons that we look to for help understanding the prevailing ideology of the time, and our view of it. 

Iconic Brands Use Mythical Stories to Connect to Consumers

The most successful brands operate on the same level: they speak to the human need to construct identity through cultural symbols, myths and archetypes reflective of the ideology of their time.

We connect with them because they help us ‘see’ our self and our place within our society – which is increasingly becoming contextualised by global issues and discourse. Iconic brands leverage mythical stories relevant to the current zeitgeist. They consciously or unconsciously connect the consumer to these stories, allowing them to become part of local and global events. These ‘myths’ have always been part of human culture – playing out at societal, community and individual levels. They express both functional and emotional aspects of the brand – but also place it in the context of current ideology.

Fig 2. Cultural Brand Strategy – Iconic brands

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Iconic brands acknowledge cultural context in their vision, mission and campaigns. They do this first, at a strategic level, by building brand positioning, not just on insight about category trends, but also on cultural contradictions that speak to the over-riding ideology of our society. 

They seek to tell stories that play to the tension between orthodox trends and subcultural counter-trends. These stories connect with the consumer at the level of identity construction. Brand stories help them express identity by connecting these cultural issues.  

In this way, iconic brands are not new. Just like the Church used alters and ritualistic communion as a way for individuals and entire communities to reach and connect to values they hold true – brands today can leverage iconic myth-making themes when constructing stories that help their audiences choose what’s important to them.

But unlike the recent past (think the 80s and 90s), branding today is not necessarily a cynical act. That’s because it works both ways - the consumer and the brand have the opportunity to work together to construct the kind of world we want to live in.


  • Sex in the City ‘liberates’ the single woman in a patriarchal western society;
  • Budweiser evolves brand by returning ‘mateship’ to grass roots nationalistic pride in an un-PC way post 9/11. E.g. folds of honor;
  • Coca Cola evolves the ‘happiness’ emotional model to ‘Taste the feeling’, empowering consumers to choose the health variant for themselves during a global cultural crack-down on the effects of sugar on health.
  • Air NZ: the ‘where to next?’ campaign challenges NZ consumers to seek out future opportunities on a global stage for pleasure and business – we are no longer a country on the edge of the world – technology has bought us centre stage – we are now part of the global conversation.

Iconic Brands Help Overloaded Consumers Make Choices

Behaviour Economics tells us people are hard wired to copy the positive choices of others. We do this because it’s in our genes. But this form of ‘short-cut’ is very helpful in today’s media saturated world where people are confronted with endless, paralysing choice. Word of mouth has never been more important.

Iconic brands set in motion stories that link the consumer with societal ideology. These brands become bridges to identity construction, leveraging group dynamics: they come alive by spreading through communities and engaging with its members, asking them ‘what do you stand for?'

In this way, they help people navigate their place in the world by taking a position that links the brand to consumer culture and society in a meaningful way: by speaking to ‘who they are’ and ‘what they believe in’ within a community context.

Fig 3. Iconic Brand Construction

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Challenger Brand Approach Can Identify Relevant Brand Myth in Complex Markets

Technology has exploded the amount and type of media channels through which brands (and their audience) can express themselves and define their identity. With so many elements now involved in brand building, an approach is required that helps organise research, insight and thinking toward the development of meaningful brand cultural stories and myth. There are 7 steps to the development of an iconic brand, which must begin with a strategic approach that seeks to set the brand apart from the pack.


Fig 4. Challenger Brand Credos

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Challenger brand strategic approach helps us identify the insights and symbols required to generate brand stories that are relevant, credible and differentiating, thereby starting the journey of the ‘iconic brand’. Challenger brand approach helps set the brand within the context of society – not within the context of marketing.

Iconic Brands Empower

Iconic brands are self-aware and challenging. They contextualise the brand within prevailing cultural ideology and play to cultural myth making and relevant archetypes by telling stories consumers can connect to in meaningful ways. They ask us not to consider what we, the brand, stands for; rather, they ask us what do we stand for? – engaging and empowering us to collaborate in building brand identity by asking people to make a choice based on who they are.


Next article in this series: Part 2: MindCraft gaming, the Renaissance Enlightenment & Challenger brand theory – what Kiwi brands need to know about visual story-telling in the 21st century.

 Bridgette Yates, Strategy & Planning