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Greek Mythology in Modern Branding

Greek Mythology in Modern Branding

You'd be hard-pressed to find a culture that hasn't been influenced by Greek mythology in some way. Those epic tales of gods, heroes, and fantastical beasts have embedded themselves in our collective psyche for millennia.

Even today, references to Greek myths permeate art, literature, academics…and branding. That's right – the same symbolic characters and storylines that ancient Greek audiences gossiped about live on in our advertising. Just switch out togas for business suits.

But why does this archaic mythology maintain such relevance in our hyper-modern world? It concerns the universal themes, human truths, and emotional storytelling woven through those classic myths. While societal values have evolved, our core desires and struggles as people haven't changed much over the centuries.

Greek myths tap into fundamental experiences we still grapple with – the search for meaning, facing fatal flaws, power struggles, passion and revenge. At their essence, they reflect what it means to be human. And that's something brands leverage to forge deeper emotional connections.

Brand Mythmaking 101

Versace Logo Design Branding

Think about iconic brand logos and advertising campaigns that have become cultural touchstones. More often than not, they borrow symbolic meaning and storytelling devices from Greek mythology, too:

  • Create deeper associations with their branding
  • Reinforce critical messages about their brand identity and products
  • Simplify complex concepts through metaphor
  • Spark consumer engagement through familiar narratives
  • Build an aura of timelessness and authenticity

The reasons are pragmatic, too. Our minds crave symbolism – we're hard-wired to find patterns, construct meaning, and create mental shortcuts. So, brands harness the built-in equity of mythological icons rather than developing new symbols from scratch.

“When a brand references Greek myths in their storytelling, it automatically benefits from thousands of years of symbolic meaning,” explains Dr. Kate Hollowell, a mythology expert. “It profoundly taps into our psyches.”

As we'll explore, the practice of mythmaking in branding isn't just clever marketing. It's also become integral to how modern businesses launch, evolve their messaging, and leave lasting impressions.

Greek Pantheon of Brand Mascots

Few mythological characters are as prominent in commercial branding as the Olympian gods. You'll find members of the Greek pantheon personifying various brands, product qualities and reputations.

Here is a quick overview of some famous examples:

  • Zeus (ruler, power) – Alfa Romeo, Gillette, DeSoto
  • Hermes (speed, athletics) – Nike, Trek Bicycles
  • Athena (wisdom, warfare) – Porsche, Minerva hotels
  • Poseidon (the seas) – Seattle Mariners, Boat Club apparel
  • Apollo (the sun, light) – Apollo Gumball, Apollo computers
  • Aphrodite (beauty, love) – Venus swimwear, Victoria's Secret
  • Hercules (masculinity, strength) – Marlboro Man, Wonderbra “Herculean” ads
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This trend extends to mythological creatures, too, like Medusa (feminine rage), Cerberus (security), centaurs (stamina), and Pegasi (inspiration, ambition). Notice how their symbolic characteristics align with the brand promises conveyed.

When crafting mascots and characterisations, brands bank on our familiarity with these figures. That automatic recognition sparks subconscious connections and learned mythological associations in consumers' minds. It's a visual shorthand for more extensive narratives and ideas.

But leveraging mythological symbols goes well beyond logos…

Myths in Action – Brand Narratives and Ad Campaigns

One of the most impactful ways brands employ Greek mythology is through overarching storytelling in their advertising and brand narratives. Familiar characters and plotlines provide the jumping-off point for captivating brand stories.

Classic examples abound, from the iconic “Hercules” campaign for Levi's 501 jeans to Starbucks casting itself as a modern odyssey and “epic journey” for customers to join. The Allegra car company even fashioned itself after the figure of Nike, the winged goddess of victory, with advertising on themes of power and transcendence.

“These myths enable brands to tap into rich, complex, nuanced narratives rather than relying on rational, matter-of-fact messaging,” explains marketing professor David Cian. “It makes the campaigns infinitely more compelling and resonant.”

Let's zoom in on a few stellar examples of this mythic storytelling in action:

Nike and the Winged Goddess

No brand leverages Greek mythology as thoroughly as Nike, named after the goddess of victory herself.

Nike Goddess Mythology

From its “Swoosh” logo alluding to her wings to advertising campaigns steeped in mythological symbolism, Nike personifies the goddess with slogans like “Nike Spirit” and visuals of female warriors. This closely ties the brand to classic Greek narratives about perseverance, conquering obstacles, and reaching one's peak potential.

Just look at the “Courage” ad campaign evoking the Amazons, a mythical tribe of female archers. Or the “Freestyle” commercial channelling Niobe, a figure transformed into stone after rashly mocking the gods. Creative references to Greek myth underscore Nike's links to athletic prowess, triumphing against all odds, and defiant acts of willpower.

Starbucks as a Modern Greek Odyssey

Coffee giant Starbucks takes a more metaphorical approach by casting its entire brand journey and in-store experience as a mythic odyssey for customers.

Former Starbucks creative director Stan Hynds explained, “We wanted to embrace the classic literary form of the Greek epic as a narrative that marks the milestones of adventure and hardship en route to a great reward.”

Starbucks Logo 1971

So Starbucks positions its coffee shops as ports of respite for modern-day odysseys, where people can physically and spiritually refuel. In-store merchandise like the “Chardonnay Siren” mugs reimagine the iconic Greek sirens, drawing sailors in with their songs.

Ad campaigns have continued this theme, depicting the iconic Starbucks siren icon as a radiant vision amid crashing waves (the promised “great reward” on the horizon). The gritty imagery of rocky seas and sailors toiling reinforces the parallel to Odysseus' perilous journey home.

Apple's “Think Different” & Greek Ideals

Greek mythology doesn't just convey brand stories – it articulates the fundamental ideals and principles companies want associated with their branding.

Apple's iconic “Think Different” campaign in the late 1990s is a standout example. The edgy black-and-white TV spots referenced cultural “rebels, mavericks, and troublemakers” who exemplified Greek virtues like uncompromising ethics and groundbreaking vision.

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Catchy Slogans Apple

Images and narratives highlighted trailblazers like Martin Luther King Jr, Pablo Picasso, Muhammad Ali, Martha Graham, and Gandhi – “people crazy enough to think they could change the world.” These figures embodied Greek heroes' daring individuality and courage, defying societal conventions.

“Think Different” solidified Apple's identity as an equally bold innovator making groundbreaking products by evoking Greek ideals of integrity, iconoclasm, and audacious ambition. The ad's narration captures this perfectly:

“Here's to the crazy ones…the round pegs in the square holes…because the people who are crazy enough to think they can change the world are the ones who do.”

Archetypes and Brand Mythmaking

Borrowing mythological symbolism doesn't just mean slapping famous icons on logos. Many brands have taken the subtler approach of embodying character archetypes inspired by Greek myths and values.

At their core, Greek myths presented different archetypal personalities with exaggerated dominant traits – heroes, warriors, sages, jesters, rulers, caregivers, lovers, etc. Modern businesses often identify their brand with one of these universal archetypes to forge deeper emotional resonance.

Brand archetypes draw from the collective symbolic unconscious we humans share. So, our consumption experience with those brands aligns with time-tested mythic storytelling patterns we're wired to connect with.

For example, the Greek hero archetype (overcoming monsters and pursuing adventure) plays out in brand narratives of individualism, bravery, and conquering challenges – think Nike, Red Bull, and Jeep. The ruler archetype has command qualities and represents legitimacy, duty, and control – we see this embodied by elite brands like Mercedes-Benz and American Express.

Other common archetypes borrowed from Greek tradition include the sage/mentor archetype for brands like LEGO or Harvard University (“Veritas” seal) that represent learning and knowledge. The lover archetype for beauty and romance-focused brands like Chanel or Godiva chocolates. Or the creator/artist archetype for innovative lifestyle brands celebrating passion and unconventionality like Apple or Virgin.

Using Myths to Make Products & Services More Engaging

Greek Mythology In Packaging Design

The applications of Greek mythology in branding extend far beyond logos, mascots and overarching narratives. Many businesses have also woven mythological theming into their product and service experiences.

All this symbolic storytelling wraps customers in an immersive mythological journey tied to a brand. It adds layers of meaning and emotional engagement to an otherwise ordinary transaction.

In Experiential Retail – Cocktail Bars and Greek Underworlds

We're seeing experiential retail venues drawing upon Greek myth to spark feelings of mystique and theatricality for guests. A prime example is the recent cluster of deluxe cocktail bars themed around the Greek underworld.

Atlanta's trendy Ama Lur bar drips with decor inspired by Hades, the ruler of the dead. The lounge mimics a crypt illuminated by candles and hellish lighting. Cocktails are served from smoked glass bottles, and leather-bound menu texts recount mythologies behind each nightmarish drink.

Boston's Hecate similarly injects Greek folklore into its witchy cocktail experience, named after the goddess of magic and sorcery. Hidden behind an iron gate, the gothic interior cultishly worships hedonism and mythical dark arts through the beverages.

This mythological mystique around “journeying to the underworld” adds enticing layers of intrigue for customers beyond just sipping cocktails. It transports them into an immersive, supernatural experience drawing on the collective symbolic unconscious around folklore, rituals, and the idea of a shadowy underworld civilisation.

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Delta's Sky Club and Mount Olympus

Some companies get even more literal with mythological theming. Take Delta Airlines' swanky airport lounges, dubbed the Delta Sky Clubs. These concierge lounges luxuriously playacting as the Mount Olympus paradises of the Greek gods themselves.

Delta describes them as “stress-free havens”, providing an “elevated experience” and “a retreat from the hustle and bustle of travel.” Indeed, the lavish surroundings exude a heavenly ambience – grandiose architectural stylings, vibrant Mediterranean hues and mosaic tiling, whimsical cloud and sky motifs. Guests are pampered with opulent offerings like full-service bars, plush seating, spa treatments and personalised attendants.

Delta Airways Logo Design

Delta's use of ancient Greek mythology here reinforces the elite status and exalted treatment its premium members receive. The thematic parallels between Mount Olympus, home of deities, and these airport respites symbolically put travellers on a plane (pun intended) with the gods. It's a theatrical flourish enhancing the aspirational image the Sky Clubs aim to cultivate for passengers.

Theming product experiences through Greek myth imbues them with more layers of meaning. These brands transform commodities or services into something grander and heroic that customers can immerse themselves in.

Fitness Cult Following and New Greek Heroes

The global fitness craze has also found fertile ground mining Greek mythology for symbolic imagery and storytelling.

In major gym chains like Orangetheory and Barry's Bootcamp, workout classes are marketed as an empowering, heroic journey. Instructors style themselves as mythological guides, fiercely motivating students (the “heroes in training”) to tackle incrementally challenging “quests” and accomplish extraordinary feats.

Then, at the fashionable Dogpound gym, clients aspire to embody the visceral strength and unstoppable tenacity of Greek figures like the Titans or Cerberus, the mythical guard dog. The entire hardcore workout philosophy draws from ancient Spartan warrior values of perseverance, mental toughness and achieving the ideal body.

These mythological threads make fitness experiences feel loftier than just sweating on treadmills. Exercisers get initiated into a transformative physical and spiritual journey with ancient precedents. They, too, can become the new embodiment of Herculean heroes from times of yore.

Potential Pitfalls of Brand Mythmaking

Greek Myths In Brand Design

Now, channelling Greek mythology is potent branding…when executed thoughtfully. However, mythology also presents some potential pitfalls that companies must carefully navigate.

Cultural Appropriation and Insensitivity

Some critics argue that co-opting spiritual folklore at the core of ancient belief systems is a form of cultural appropriation and insensitivity.

Greek myths were more than just entertaining tales to ancient Greeks – they encapsulated core philosophies about the world, morality, humanity's relationship to nature and divinity. Many modern-day Hellenics (Greeks practising ancient religion) still revere them sacredly.

So when brands poke fun at mythological figures in comical ways or repurpose them divorced of their original significance, it can be seen as disrespecting cultural heritage.

Take the example of the controversial 2012 Bloomingdale's ad. The campaign riffed off the Greek myth of Pegasus and Bellerophon as a metaphor for sex with strangers during holiday parties. The resulting ad sparked outrage for flippantly trivialising rape and spousal betrayal themes from the original myth.

Archaic Stereotypes and Misogyny

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Some Greek myths inevitably reflect Bronze Age biases against women, depicting them as subservient, petty, and objects of desire rather than empowered equals to men.

Many expert mythologists have also noted disturbing trends of victim-blaming and normalised sexual violence against female characters. The rape of Persephone, for example, is sometimes oversimplified as just “seduction” in retellings.

When brands uncritically borrow from these problematic origin stories wholesale, they risk perpetuating toxic gender stereotypes in their messaging. It's a delicate balance – finessing the compelling narrative and symbolism while updating any antiquated values for modern sensibilities.

Inauthenticity, Pandering and Overuse

Like all trends, there's a point where mythological references can start feeling inauthentic or like mere pandering if forced or overused.

Brands have to make meaningful links between the symbolism and their products/values. Otherwise, the connections feel superficial and gimmicky.

Out-of-touch mythological allusions may also cause the audience to disconnect. Younger generations are less steeped in the ancient Greek tradition. So, brands targeting that demographic may need to explain their symbolic choices more clearly.

Enduring Symbolic Impact

Despite the potential pitfalls, Greek mythology remains a fertile well of potent branding symbolism and storytelling. Its versatile icons and familiar themes provide endless fodder for creative marketers to tap into consumer psychology.

As Dr. Hollowell summarised, “The magic of Greek myths is their ability to dwell simultaneously in our distant ancestral past and modern-day society. They've become part of the zeitgeist on which humanity continuously builds.”

That resonating power will likely keep brands reimagining mythic narratives for years as long as businesses maintain cultural respect and legitimate symbolic ties.

As all the great Greek heroes knew, epic stories and ideals endure eternally.

FAQs About Greek Mythology in Branding

What exactly is a brand archetype?

A brand archetype is a symbolic brand identity and personality inspired by universally recognised character archetypes found across mythologies, folklore, and storytelling traditions. Some common archetypes brands adopt include the hero, sage, ruler, outlaw, lover, jester, etc.

Why are brand archetypes so effective in marketing?

Archetypes allow brands to tap into a collective reservoir of symbolic understanding and associations we're psychologically primed for as humans. This creates more emotional resonance, meaning and cultural familiarity with the brand.

Which ancient mythological traditions besides Greek influence branding?

Norse, Roman, Hindu, Egyptian, and Mesopotamian myths and legends have all been referenced in branding campaigns to some degree. Greek myths are the most commonly borrowed due to their influence on Western culture.

Is all use of Greek mythology in branding seen as cultural appropriation?

Not necessarily, but some critics do view it this way – especially if depictions are seen as inauthentic or flippantly co-opting sacred cultural beliefs simply for profit. Brands need to make thoughtful, well-researched symbolic choices and respect the heritage.

What are some examples of brands that embody Greek mythological archetypes?

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Stuart Crawford

Stuart Crawford is an award-winning creative director and brand strategist with over 15 years of experience building memorable and influential brands. As Creative Director at Inkbot Design, a leading branding agency, Stuart oversees all creative projects and ensures each client receives a customised brand strategy and visual identity.

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