Brand as mythology
Just under the wire, L. Frank Baum's heirs have no copyright protection on The Wizard of Oz. As a result, there are Broadway musicals, concordances, prequels, sequels and more. All of which creates a rich, emotional universe (and makes the copyrighted movie even more valuable).
Most of us remember the mythology stories they taught us in school (Zeus and Thor and the rest of the comic-like heroes.) Myths allow us to project ourselves into their stories, to imagine interactions that never took place, to take what's important to us and live it out through the myth.
There are dozens, if not hundreds of entertainment mythological brands. James Bond and Barbie, for example.
But it goes far behond that.
There's clearly a Google mythology and a Starbucks one was well. We feel differently about brands like these than we do about, say Maxwell House or Random House.
Why do Santa and Ronald McDonald have a mythology but not Dave at Wendy's or the Burger King?
Let's try the Wikipedia: Myths are narratives about divine or heroic beings, arranged in a coherent system, passed down traditionally, and linked to the spiritual or religious life of a community, endorsed by rulers or priests.
So, if I were trying to invent a mythic brand, I'd want to be sure that there was a story, not just a product or a pile of facts. That story would promise (and deliver) an heroic outcome. And there needs to be growth and mystery as well, so the user can fill in her own blanks. Endorsement by a respected ruler or priest helps as well.
The key word, I think, is spiritual. Mythological brands make a spiritual connection with the user, delivering something that we can't find on our own... or, at the very least, giving us a slate we can use to write our own spirituality on.
People use a Dell. They are an Apple.
This can happen accidentally, but it often occurs on purpose. A brand can be deliberately mythological, created to intentionally deliver the benefits of myth. Casinos in Las Vegas have been trying to do this for decades (and usually failing). But talk to a Vegas cab driver about Steve Wynn and you can see that it's been done at least once.
There's a mythology about Digg and about Wikipedia, but not about about.com. The mysterious nature of rankings and scores and community ensures that, combined with the fact that the first two have public figures at the helm... heroes.
It's easy to confuse publicity with mythology, but it doesn't work that way... there's no Zune mythology, for example. It's also easy to assume that mythology will guarantee financial success, but it didn't work for General Magic, a company which successfully leveraged the heroic reputations of its founders, created a very hot IPO but failed to match the needs of the larger market.
It did, on the other hand, work for Andersen's, an ice cream stand in Buffalo (!?) that has a line every single day, even in January.
Hard to explain, difficult to bottle, probably worth the effort to pursue.