What do Ancient Greece, The USA, The Romans, Bauhaus, the BBC, Innocent, Ikea, Dove, The French Revolution and Apple have in common?

It’s not a comedy sketch.

They all have foundational narratives.

A concept taken from cultural anthropology, it is the founding story that defines and sums up the raison d’être, beliefs and actions of civilisations, nations, movements, organisations… and indeed some brands.

These narratives create meaning, unite communities or audiences behind core values, common goals and shared visions.

They anchor organisations and brands in the culture, and make them into cultural beacons; they help people define themselves, and claim their identity.

By triggering social and societal aspirations, they can motivate people to pursue their goals and their dreams. The starting point of social movements, they can be a cultural force that inspires us to live purposeful lives.

Think Reith and the Beeb.

A foundational narrative is a story with strong meaning that strikes the imagination and resonates with each individual within a particular cultural group.

When you look at the world’s strongest brands those that really resonate in the culture have strong founding narratives– explicitly or implicitly guiding what the brand says and does.

Here are some examples:

The Iliad defined the values and behaviours of the Ancient Greeks, the tale of Romulus and Remus drove the Romans forward, the Bauhaus manifesto defined the concept of modernism, still as powerful today as it was in 1919, and the French continue to take to the streets and cling to the principles of 1789.

  • IKEA’s founding narrative is based around the frugal and thrifty nature of the people of Smaland in Sweden.
  • Dove’s is an opposition to the beauty myth and its negative impact on women’s self-esteem.
  • Apple’s is borne from the Californian counter-culture and one man’s desire to make technology simple and beautiful.
  • Virgin: (originally) David versus Goliath.
  • Innocent: being true to yourself brings success.
  • Facebook: everybody’s life is a story.
  • Harley Davidson: (for the middle aged) rebel with a cause.

(Brexit alert. Look away now....)

(The abduction of Europe by Titian)

Even the neutral brand aware pundits might say Europe needed a stronger foundational narrative. A common market, a bunch of binding rules (albeit more reasonable ones than commonly depicted), large premises in Brussels, faceless bureaucrats and a phantom Parliament do not constitute a foundational narrative…

Einstein said “The distinction between the past, present, and future is only a stubbornly persistent illusion”

Mind you, he wasn't a brand consultant.

Luckily for us...


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