If you thought the emergence of a popular brand of car, soap, computer, or chocolate bar was a complete mystery — an utterly haphazard, whodathunkit event — think again.

According to top-gun marketing consultants Al and Laura Ries in The Origin of Brands (Harper Business), certain clear and unyielding laws explain the development of any successful brand. First among them is divergence, “the least understood, most powerful force in the universe.” For example, broadcast TV diverged into cable and satellite, and computers diverged into mainframe, network, personal, laptop, and hand-held. As the branches subdivided, new brands thrived and fortunes were made.

Echoing Darwin in more than their title, the authors smash a number of icons, starting with the convergence boom, which gave us phone/PDA combos, media center PCs, and other much-hyped hybrids (although the authors ignore those wildly successful camera phones).

Whether you agree or not with its conclusions, The Origin of Brands is a lively, provocative read. Bottom line: Winners don’t just create brands, they create whole new cat­egories. Low-carb energy drink, anyone?