Mythical Marketing 101
by Chris A. Kenny
At the outset of what will no doubt be one of the most pivotal
and inquisitive essays on this subject, please note all findings
are based on the sound and widely accepted scientific practice
of Comparative Internetology (CI) (also referred
to as Webologicism). Using this methodology, you
simply ask the question and then disprove the “null
Googlethesis,” which states: “If your answer isn’t
on the first page of the search results, then it didn’t
happen or doesn’t exist.”
As a native of the Pacific Northwest, my first encounter
with Bigfoot came at the age of eleven—and it was pretty
scary. I’ll never forget it. One night, I awoke to an
ominous, menacing sound—and it spoke: “Many people
do not believe in Bigfoot, but a lot of people do. Some of
them feel they must kill it to prove it exists.” I bolted
up and peered at the flickering TV screen which read, In
Search of Bigfoot.
It was the voice of Leonard Nimoy.
Then a hazy, grainy image of a large man or woman dressed
in a gorilla suit lumbered across the screen, looking only
once, annoyingly, toward the camera—as if to say, “I
told you not to film me! My fur looks terrible today.”
I knew then, as I still believe today: Bigfoot lives.
And so does the Yeren (Bigfoot’s distant cousin by
marriage), as well as the Loch Ness Monster, the Chupacabra,
and an entire kingdom of mythical creatures (some already
extinct). “But how can these mythical creatures exist
without any scientific evidence?” you ask? The explanation
is simple and two-fold: 1) cryptozoology—the study of
hidden animals; and 2) marketing.
Marketing has always been associated with myth, and, arguably,
it’s why myths survive. Taking the argument a step further,
it’s this same marketing that leads to the commercialization
and ultimate creation of key chains, bumper stickers, and
all the other kitsch. For example, I have no proof of the
existence of these creatures. But I can either choose to believe,
or be persuaded to believe—and that’s where marketing
and the monetization of myth unite! Just like when I was eleven:
good marketing (that’s debatable) sold the myth, and
I bought the story.
This brings us to one big question: Is it the marketing of
myth, or the myth of marketing that keeps these creatures
alive? (Who knows?)
In other words, is it that we want to believe there’s
a small chance Bigfoot might show up on a logging road after
we’ve savagely clear cut his habitat and ask for a room
at the zoo and a royalty check? Or because no trip to Scotland
would be complete without the requisite photo on the banks
of Urquhart Bay while eating a sack of chocolate Loch Ness
“droppings,” and then buying a shot glass and
a set of Nessie-emblazoned golf balls “for your friend”?
Since these questions are too lofty for cryptozoology (can’t
even form a “null Googlethesis”), and there’s
no right or wrong answer anyway, let’s just see if we
can figure out where the monetization of myths all began and
start pointing fingers.
The earliest creators of myths and legends did so
to explain the wonders of the Cosmos and things on Earth they
didn’t understand. A definitive canon, the Encyclopedia
of Things That Never Were, states: “A scientist
might deplore the notion that there is any link between science
and fantasy, but fantasy always comes first. It is the creature
of imagination, and without imagination there would be no
science.” And I would add without fantasy, there is
So who is to blame for taking our myths and legends (hopes
and dreams) and exploiting them for capital gain? Research
indicates there are at least two probable causes: Marco Polo
Marco Polo’s travels kick-started the age of European
exploration. Globe trotters like Columbus and Amerigo Vespucci
(sound familiar?) returned with spices, gold, jewels (Old
World kitsch), and tall tales of the existence of mythical
animals. Since discovering New Worlds is very costly, these
explorers would sometimes exaggerate the truth, and promise
the King or Queen great treasures and riches upon their return.
Blame the Unicorn
Back in the Old World, there were at least six mysterious
natural treasures craved and sought after from the New and
Other Worlds: walrus ivory; the coco-de-mer, a 50-lb nut that
grew beneath the sea and bestowed health and bliss; a mammoth
tusks, which the Chinese believed were from the teeth of a
giant mole that died when it surfaced; the gyrfalcon; polar
bears, a status symbol for royalty; and, last but not least,
the magical horn of the unicorn (also called an alicorn).
Rare and mysterious, the horn of the unicorn commanded extreme
value—and made them ideal gifts among rulers. Unicorn
horns were a great way to win friends and influence neighboring
monarchs. And they worked! Alicorns were bought and sold and
owned by monarchs and popes alike throughout the Middle Ages
and into the Renaissance. Everyone wanted one. The scepter
of Russia’s czars and the scepter of Austria’s
Hapsburg were both made of unicorn horns. The treasures of
Japan’s imperial palace included two alicorns.
The problem was the New World had a serious deficit of alicorns.
(In fact, some people think they didn’t exist at all.)
So the great explorers and conquerors needed a solution if
they were to continue their exploitation of myth. What else
looks like a unicorn horn? Answer: the narwhal!
The “unicorn horns” that remain in royal treasuries
today are in fact all narwhal tusks—the huge elongated
and spiraled tooth of the 15-foot High Arctic whale. The tooth
is ivory and so closely resembled the depictions of the mythical
unicorns, they became easy prey for commercial value. As soon
as those pillaging future capitalists, the explorers and conquerors,
figured out they could dupe their royal beneficiaries and
return with the most valued treasure, it was on.
The narwhal-unicorn scheme was probably one of the best kept
secrets, and remains one of history’s most successful
marketing strategies. All along the supply chain—from
Vikings to Arabs and Spaniards alike—the trade was carried
on in complete secrecy for over 400 years. The bottom finally
dropped in the 17th Century as a result of increased trade
between Greenland and North America.
Bigfooters and Ness-watchers
Today the commercialization of myth is alive and
well. And the good news is, so is the desire to confirm the
myths. On May 26, 2007, a 55-year old lab technician named
Gordon Holmes captured a digital video of what he called “this
jet black thing, about 4 to 5 feet long, moving fairly fast
in the water.” Even skeptics described the video as
“the best footage ever seen.” Unfortunately, the
credibility of Holmes came under question due to his past
claims of filming black fairies. And many wrote it off as
an otter. Nonetheless, the media interest in Nessie skyrocketed,
and sales of trinkets and kitsch hit an all time high not
seen in years.
The next time you’re surrounded by miles of key chains,
shot glasses, tee-shirts and other beautiful kitsch, don’t
curse business and marketing; just blame it on Marco Polo
and the Unicorn.