Once Upon a Brand
I have many friends and acquaintances who praise the joys of Binge Watching television programs. The allure of watching episode after episode during the course of a ‘lost weekend’ has largely eluded me. Until now. Five seasons of Once Upon a Time (CBS) had gone unnoticed by me, until my 15-year-old daughter asked if I wanted to watch a segment with her. I was nearly immediately hooked. Why? Bear with me. I think I figured it out.
The first appeal, of course, is just the mind-frying task of contemplating which world to worry about first: the Storybrook, Maine of today or the Fairy Tale Kingdom we all grew up with. Each is equally familiar – and equally strange. The plot jumps back and forth between an archetypal Maine woods version of Now and an elucidation of enchanted Then. The residents of Storybrook (at least initially) don’t remember their former selves (Snow White, Prince Charming, Rumplestiltskin, Jimminy Cricket, Little Red Riding Hood), but somehow know enough to live in constant dread of the ‘mayor,’ the Evil Queen. The show’s operating psychology is of people somehow trapped in a series of relationships predicated on past pains and blessings they no longer recall. Welcome to our World.
My daughter began the fun by trying to figure out which Fairy Tale characters the friends who populate our lives are in this alternate universe. (She, Princess Charmingly enough, thinks I’m Snow White.) Very quickly we began spotting strangers on the street we could sort into the appropriate archetype: the Grannies, the Hansels & Gretels, the Sleeping Beauties. You get the drift.
I began thinking about the Brand archetypes: I’ve done a bit of this in various categories, so it was a natural evolution of my viewing pleasure, I suppose.
· The Evil Queen toggles between trying to be a real leader of the town/land and the misuse of her powers, ultimately (and eternally, it would seem) attacking an innocent Snow White. Isn’t that what pharmaceuticals play in our commercial landscape? Tremendous power (an apple a day) corrupted in the wrong hands, or at least with debilitating side effects?
· Rumplestiltskin spins straw into gold. Isn’t that the world of Big Food, as we know it? As he continues to remind us in the show: All magic comes with a price.
· Jimminy Cricket is the voice of conscious. I’m thinking that’s the ‘better for me and/or better for the environment and/or better for my kids’ voice we all hear and to which we (like Pinocchio) may or may not consistently adhere.
· Sleeping Beauty is an entire cadre of Brands that were once wonderful and have now simply ‘fallen asleep,’ because we can’t figure out how to wake their promise.
· Little Red Riding Hood brands are the ones that masquerade as appealing, even sophisticated, but are actually born to destroy: waistlines, lungs, driving records. Want fries with that? Got a light? One for the road?
Carl Jung and Brunno Bettleheim, among many others, have certainly mined the power and uses of archetype and fairytale enchantment in people. I’m now wondering if there's an equivalent lens we can use to break out of the rut of Then behaviors as we attempt to surface the essential promise ‘for good’ of the Brands we steward Now. What are the myths we follow without realizing? What can ‘happily ever after' mean for Brands?