In Dr. Yuval Harari’s book Sapiens: A Brief History of Mankind, he connects the ability that our ancestors developed of being able to create ‘fictional narratives’ (stories of things that do not physically exist) directly to the modern concept of the corporation. A corporation is more than the buildings and assets it owns, or even the employees and owners it has, or even the products and services it provides. The modern legal entity of a corporation transcends those things—it is an agreed upon abstract concept, a fictional idea that requires the agreement of a collective in order to exist. And these agreed-upon fictional narratives have a powerful shaping effect on human behaviour. As such, they are highly predictive of how someone is going to behave, even if he is a total stranger to you.
Let’s say you’re a Ford employee from Brussels on a train going across Europe and, by random chance, you encounter a Ford employee from Detroit. Instantaneously, you know you have significant common interests and a common frame of reference: the culture and interests of the Ford Corporation. You may have entirely different racial/genetic makeup, have been raised in very different societies, come from polar opposite class backgrounds, be of different ages and genders—and yet you have a significant framework of thought and behaviour in common. You may even feel a sense of allegiance to each other that immediately allows a certain bond to start emerging.
In other words, this powerful ability of humans—to create fictions and transmit them across cultures and geographies—resulted in, among other things, the phenomenon of brands. Brands exist only in the minds of humans. It is an abstraction with physical extensions or manifestations. And, like all fictions, some are more popular or more compelling than others.
This is an immensely powerful tool. A popular brand commands the attention and allegiance of millions of individuals—and in today’s social media age also spawns impressive communities of fans. So if we are to believe Dr. Harari, then this ability that allowed us to catapult to the top of the food chain, conquer or eliminate other human species, and dominate the planet—is today the same tool that brands wield to achieve their objectives.
So, in this light, it is not at all an exaggeration to call those who create brand narratives as the equivalent of priests and priestesses—the aiders and abetters of myths that hold our attention collectively.
What is nice to know is that like all collective fictions, a brand depends entirely on humans collectively believing and upholding its story. Without belief, in the absence of widespread interest, a brand will wither away, as we’re now seeing with brands such as Sony, who have failed to evolve their narrative into modern times as compared with Apple and Samsung. A temple that is empty—wields no influence. But a story that is on the lips of millions—can rule the world.