As business owners, we want our brands to stand out and stun. Nothing feels better than a gorgeous website, social feed, and seamless experience, right? But we also want to connect with audiences and share ideas in a way that really resonates with them. We want to reflect back to them what’s most important.
In essence, we want to tell stories. But what stories are we telling with our brands?
For decades, branding agencies have used something called “branding archetypes” to help brands understand the stories they are telling, and what their audiences value most. If you’re at all familiar with the concept of archetypes, you know that brands fall into usually one of twelve categories (more on them below).
These branding archetypes are based on Carl Jung’s concept of archetypes, which are “universal, primal patterns that exist in the collective unconscious of all human beings.” Huh? Basically, these are stories that every culture and every people have — the same stories that have been told around fires for millennia.
Think about it this way: Every culture has a dragon-like beast in their stories and a brave hero who slays the dragon. That’s an archetype, or some might even call it a “trope.”
Where in the world did these branding archetypes come from? We wanted to know, too. It turns out, in the mid-1980s, two advertising executives, Margaret Mark and Carol S. Pearson, developed Jung’s concept of archetypes and applied it to brand strategy. They even published a book about it, “The Hero and the Outlaw: Building Extraordinary Brands Through the Power of Archetypes,” in 2001.
But enough about them. Back to brand archetypes.
In general, brand archetypes are said to help define a brand’s character, values, and emotional appeal. Essentially, it’s a way to find the story that really draws in your ideal audience.
These brand archetypes include:
The Hero is brave, courageous, and triumphs over adversity. Brands that are “The Hero,” empower their audience, encourage success, and emphasize overcoming challenges. Think Nike’s “Just do it,” or The U.S. Army.
The Innocent is simple, pure, and optimistic. Brands that are “The Innocent” feel good, honest, and trustworthy. Coca-Cola and Disney are great examples, because they always have an uplifting message or visuals.
The Explorer is all about freedom, adventure, and discovery. Brands that are “The Explorer” are known for featuring exploration, individuality, and experiences. Examples include Burton, Jeep, and almost any outdoor brand.
The Sage is wise, knowledgeable, and curious. Brands that are “The Sage” tend to focus on education, expertise, and insights. A good example of this is Brené Brown, or even Hank Green.
The Lover is passionate, sensual, and intimate. Brands that are “The Lover” often feature emotions, pleasure, and connections. Think of Dior, Chanel, and the higher-end eau de parfum brands.
The Jester is joyful, humorous, and spontaneous. Brands that are “The Jester” use humor and playfulness to engage their audience and create memorable experiences. Examples include Progressive and State Farm (Flo from Progressive and Jake from State Farm), or Duolingo.
The Caregiver is compassionate, nurturing, and supportive. Brands that are “The Caregiver” focus on helping others, providing comfort, and promoting well-being. The Salvation Army, Goodwill, and other companies with a very people-driven mission are good examples.
The Magician is transformative, innovative, and constantly changing. Brands that are “The Magician” pride themselves on being disruptive and creating transformative experiences. Apple is one of the best examples of this.
The Creator is all about exploring new modes of self-expression and about not conforming to the “regular way” of doing things. Brands that are “The Creator” appeal to individuals who value creativity, originality, and the power of imagination. Examples include Wildfang, a brand that produces gender-neutral clothing for adults.
The Ruler represents authority, leadership, and control. Brands that are “The Ruler” provide structure, guidance, and a sense of order and stability. Think about Rolex, with their slogan, “A crown for every achievement.” That screams ruler doesn’t it?
The Everyman is relatable, down to earth, and is all about belonging. Brands that are “The Everyman” are mostly about inclusivity or speaking to a universal experience. A good example of this is Home Depot, with their focus on helping doers get more done. They make it easy to get things you need, and the guidance you need to do it confidently.
The Outlaw is (predictably) all about rebellion, nonconformity, and breaking the rules. Brands that are “The Outlaw” appeal to those who seek to disrupt or challenge norms, or who want to be able to stand against trends. Wicked Clothes, an online clothing retailer, is a great example. They have controversial designs and market them by posting the mean comments people share about their designs.
Now that you know what the twelve Jungian archetypes are, let’s talk about which one is right for your brand.
Sorry to break it to you, doll, but there isn’t the “perfect archetype” for your brand. Why’s that? We’ve got a few reasons.
One of the textbook definitions of an archetype is “a very typical example of a certain person or thing.” Do you want your brand to be “a very typical” anything?! We think not.
By relying solely on archetypes to help define your brand, you run the risk of oversimplifying your true mission — and your target audience might pick up on the lack of depth. There are more elements to your brand than archetype alone.
Archetypes like this have been around since the 80s. Most modern-day marketing is built around them. This means that multiple brands are the same archetype, especially within the same industry.
Remember at the beginning of this blog where we said you want to stand out and stun? These archetypes aren’t going to help you do that.
Everyone and their dog is talking about AI these days, and it’s so easy to see brands who’ve adopted AI indiscriminately. (Oh, the dull social captions. Sigh.) In a way, brand archetypes are like AI — they’re formulaic and a little bit watered down.
It seems like “low-hanging fruit” for your brand, rather than a genuine connection to the story you’re telling and the people you serve. Plus, if you choose a brand archetype that is “aspirational” for your brand, rather than rooted in reality, it will feel entirely disingenuous. Consumers are becoming increasingly discerning and can sense when a brand is simply trying to “check a box” rather than embody certain values.
“I’m not a lover anymore, I’m an outlaw!” Sounds weird, doesn’t it? And yet, this is what brands who select archetypes would have to do any time they want to meet changes in their audience or offers.
Archetypes are a fixed framework, which limits your brand’s ability to evolve and adapt to changes in your market. Your brand will grow and change, and you don’t want to feel constrained by a particular archetype.
Jungian psychology started in the early 1900s — and brand archetypes grew in popularity in the 1980s. That’s a long time ago, and consumer needs and expectations have entirely changed.
What worked in marketing in the 80s won’t work today, and consumers are statistically more attentive to consumption and brand values. You want your brand to be the most up-to-date, audience-aware version it can be.
Want to use a brand archetype to help you with your business’s storytelling, marketing, and audience connection? Be our guest. However, we have one bit of advice: Use “archetypes” as guidelines, rather than rules.
Archetypes are a wonderful starting point for your brand, but they can be incredibly restrictive if you try to stick to them 100% of the time. Also note that most agencies have “assigned” color schemes, keywords, and audience personas associated with each archetype. This makes it easier for them to build your brand, but it also means that your brand is essentially one of many with the same color scheme, visual appearance, and personality. (And it only increases the likelihood of siloed branding.)
Our fix? Treat archetypes like part of your brand’s cocktail mix.
Tap into archetypal insights — especially the storytelling elements and strengths — when you’re defining your brand. Then, pair it with in-depth market research, consumer insights, and a genuine understanding of your unique value proposition. Once you’ve got the right mix of understanding “who” your brand is and who it serves, you can add in the visuals that stand out.
Remember: Your brand is dynamic. Don’t limit it by putting it in a box. If you’re considering a rebrand or a new brand and were wondering if brand archetypes would help, we have something else that might help more.
It’s time to dive into the difference between a brand refresh, a sister brand, and a sub-brand. Trust us, this will help you more than these fuddy-duddy archetypal frameworks.
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