There’s the counseling fairy godmother, the chivalrous prince charming, and the wise-cracking donkey sidekick to make us laugh, for example. Many of our most beloved stories rely on similar stock characters to drive their plots and yet, despite their similar setup, they still captivate us. How could this be?
Part of the reason these stories draw us in is actually precisely because of the stock characters, similarly known as archetypes. They help us understand what’s going on and to emotionally invest in the characters and the stories they weave. If you can believe it, much like in the wild worlds of battling space emperors, trolls, or wizards, in our real world, brands use archetypes to shape their own narratives and connect with their audiences.
Origin of the Archetype
In its dictionary definition, an archetype is “the original pattern, or model, from which all other things of the same kind are made; a perfect example or model of something”. The meaning of the word was applied to psychoanalysis by psychologist Carl Jung. Jung used the word archetype to describe the way innate patterns of thought, behavior, and personality exist appear again and again in people. Jung identified 12 archetypes that each individual may embody, representing our innermost selves. They are found universally, persisting throughout different cultures and time periods. As people, we can all inherently recognize and relate to the elements of archetypes in ourselves and in each other. It’s for this reason that they play such a powerful role in subconsciously influencing our behavior, values, and motivations.
Applying the Archetype to Branding
Brand archetypes were created from Jung’s original 12. In their 2001 book “The Hero and the Outlaw: Building Extraordinary Brands Through the Power of Archetypes” Margaret Mark and Carol S. Pearson state that; “Archetypes are the heartbeat of a brand because they convey a meaning that makes customers relate to a product as if it actually were alive in some way, they have a relationship with it and care about it.” An archetype is the heart of who a brand truly is exemplified through human characteristics. Brand archetypes make use of storytelling and emotion to connect with their audience on conscious and subconscious levels. Some of the most successful brands of today are masters of aligning them and have therefore inspired ironclad loyalty from devoted fans.
Constructing your brand around an archetype helps your audience instantly “get” what you’re all about. Which of these 12 could you tap into?
The Creator craves innovation. They’re bold, creative, and aren’t afraid to try new things. They’re led by vision and a desire to create an enduring product or experience that realizes this vision. Often pushing the boundaries of creativity and design, they empower others to express themselves through the product/services they offer. Technology brands like Apple and Adobe are perfect examples of this archetype.
Strategy: Use creativity to solve problems
Brand Message: “Think different”
Traits: Innovation, Originality, Expression, Vision, Individualism, Entrepreneurism
Marketing niche: Visionary. Help customers express themselves, create, and foster their imagination
Brands: Apple, Lego, Adobe, GoPro, Crayola
The Sage longs for understanding. They are seekers of knowledge and wisdom. They do not look to change the world themselves but prefer to empower others to do so by seeking out valuable information and sharing it. They are often life-long learners and thought leaders, making them excellent mentors. Education-focused companies, like Coursera and Discovery Channel, typically exhibit this archetype.
Strategy: Seek information and knowledge, celebrate life-long learning
Brand Message: “The truth will set you free”
Traits: Wisdom, Intelligence, Expertise, Thoughtfulness
Marketing niche: Help people to better understand the world, provide practical information and analysis
Brands: TED, Google, BBC, Discovery Channel
The Caregiver lives for service. Driven by compassion and a desire to help others, they are noted for their altruism. Nonprofit and sustainability-focused brands embody this archetype often. They want others to feel nurtured and secure and will defend those who are less fortunate than themselves.
Strategy: Do things for others
Brand Message: “Treat others as yourself”
Traits: Compassion, Caring, Reassuring, Nurturing, Warm, Gratefulness
Marketing niche: Help people care for themselves, serve the public through health care, education, or aid programs
Brands: Unicef, Johnson & Johnson, TOMS
The Innocent craves safety and looks at things from a glass-half-full perspective. They are positive and optimistic and actively avoid negativity toward others. They see the world as wondrous and fun, celebrating the simple joys of life. It’s important for them to spread joy where they can. These brands rely more on honest, good virtues, and simplicity rather than creating change through innovation.
Strategy: Do the right thing
Brand Message: “Life is about enjoying simple pleasures”
Traits: Optimistic, Charming, Honest, Loyal, Simple
Marketing niche: Companies with strong values, seen as trustworthy, reliable, and honest.
Brands: Dove, Coca-Cola, Cottonelle
The Jester is driven by enjoyment. They’re the life of the party every time, and they’re not afraid of a little mischief. The Jester aims to crack people up, approaching life with light-heartedness. Jester brands maintain a playful stance and look for the good in every situation.
Strategy: Be playful, be fun
Brand Message: “If you’re not having fun, you’re doing it wrong”
Traits: Play, Humor, Positivity, Togetherness, Fun
Marketing niche: Help people have a good time or enjoy what they are doing, allow people to be more impulsive and spontaneous
Brands: Budweiser, Skittles, Old Spice, M&Ms
The Magician is a dreamer who believes that anything can happen. The Magician brand archetype is a visionary that wants to dazzle their audience with new and exciting experiences and make dreams come true. They have the ability to take people on a journey of transformation through the experience of a magical moment. Magicians savor knowledge but prefer to use it to realize their vision than share it directly with the world.
Strategy: Create a unique vision and stand by it
Brand Message: “Your wildest dreams can come true if you only believe”
Traits: Transformation, Charisma, Imagination, Idealism, Visionary
Marketing niche: Help people transform their world, inspire change
Brands: Disney, Dyson, Polaroid, MAC Cosmetics
The Ruler craves control. They value organization, power, and status. This archetype is often portrayed in luxury vehicle brands. They love rules, especially when they are able to set them, expecting others to follow suit. Rulers are often exceptionally confident, proud of their expertise, and possess strong leadership skills. However, they are also trustworthy and stable personalities. They see themselves as the leading force and will aggressively defend their position, fearing being undermined and losing their power.
Strategy: Lead and create exclusivity
Brand Message: ”We’ll take it from here”
Traits: Power, Status, Success, Wealth, Loyalty
Marketing niche: Help people become more organized, restore order, create more stability and security in a chaotic world
Brands: Microsoft, Verizon Wireless, Rolex, Louis Vuitton
The Hero seeks mastery. They don’t back down from a challenge and are courageous, honest, and brave. They’re a common archetype for sportswear brands. The Hero has a strong sense of right and wrong and looks to make a difference. They have a core desire for mastery and want to inspire others to push themselves. Hero brands portray success through hard work and effort, meeting challenges head-on.
Strategy: Motivate and encourage
Brand Message: “Where there’s a will, there’s a way”
Traits: Bravery, Courage, Honor, Inspiration, Growth, Mastery
Marketing niche: Make a positive mark on the world, inspire others to be better, become stronger together
Brands: Nike, FedEx, Adidas, Duracell
The Everyman wants to belong. They are warm, friendly, and humble. This is perhaps the most flexible archetype, seen across a variety of industries. Everyman brands are down-to-earth, relatable, and approachable. They strive to create deep connections, driven by a core desire for community and belonging. They hate to stand out and don’t display any extremes of character or opinion, preferring to be inclusive. Because of their lack of stance and longing to be liked, they have a greater likelihood of being forgotten.
Strategy: Down-to-earth and trustworthy
Brand Message: “I’m just like you”
Traits: Dependable, Realistic, Inclusive, Humble, Friendly
Marketing niche: Common touch, solid virtues, gives a sense of belonging
Brands: Ford, Levis, Target
The Rebel desires liberation. They embody the saying, “Rules are made to be broken.” They are known as the disruptors, challenging the status quo. As free thinkers, the Rebel is happy to take risks in order to create something unique and inspiring. They are not appealing to all and they don’t try to be. They often inspire a cult-like following with fierce brand loyalty amongst a smaller, close-knit audience.
Strategy: Shake things up and do things differently
Brand Message: “Rules are made to be broken”
Traits: Disruptive, Confrontational, Independent, Change-Makers
Marketing niche: Agent of change, advocate for the disenfranchised, break with conventions
Brands: Harley-Davidson, Diesel, Red Bull, MTV
The Explorer lives for freedom. Similar to Rebels, they want to be independant and push boundaries, but are not inclined towards disruption. They are often depicted in outdoor and adventure brands. They seek challenges, big goals, and adventure. Brands with the Explorer archetype are driven by the desire for freedom and independence, unrestricted by typical boundaries. Explorers are non-conformists on a continuous journey of discovery.
Strategy: Take your own path
Brand Message: “Seek out new things and set yourself free”
Traits: Discovery, Adventure, Independence, Exploration, Pioneering
Marketing niche: Exciting, risk-taking, authentic
Brands: NASA, Jeep, The North Face, National Geographic
Lovers are motivated by desire. These brands are often sensual and empathetic, motivated to become more emotionally and physically appealing to their audience. However, they can also be spiritual, companionable and family-orientated. In people, passion can sometimes cloud the Lover’s focus, the fear of loss or loneliness all-consuming them.
Brand Message: “I only have eyes for you”
Traits: Sensual, Romantic, Affectionate, Indulgent
Marketing niche: Help people feel appreciated, find belonging, connect, enjoy intimacy, build relationships
Brands: Victoria’s Secret, Godiva, Alfa Romeo, Chanel
Brand archetypes are an underutilized tool that can help you stand out from the crowd by giving your brand a depth that truly resonates with your audience. Because of their strong human characteristics, they have a true ability to evoke human desires when utilized effectively. It’s not hard to imagine these characters, their motivations, and their lifestyle. We’ve seen them all before! The wealth of literature on the topic and the prevalence of their use in storytelling of all kinds helps to arm you with a roadmap on how to employ them in your branding.