Archetypes are the universal connection between human experience and meaning. Long used in stories – both written and verbal – across cultures worldwide, archetypes are the essential aspect to greater meaning in a world that can seem chaotic, uncontrollable and (sometimes) cruel. While archetypes are well-known in fables, myths and tall-tales, they are still rather new to the branding process.
“In an age which many people crave a deeper sense of connection to their work and want business to demonstrate greater integrity and accountability, the creative and mindful attention to archetypes can facilitate a more authentic, holistic and human way of being in business.”
– Hartwell & Chen, Archetypes in Branding
Whether it’s Madonna as the Maverick, Maya Angelou as the Advocate, Genentech as the Creator or Stanford University as the Sage, archetypes permeate organizations, brands, institutions, Fortune 100 companies, and personal brands alike.
Here I’ll explore why you – as a brand or company – need to know your archetype, especially in an ever-crowded media environment. Between social media, online advertising, traditional marketing and entertainment mediums, the ability to speak to your ideal customer and cut through the noise is more imperative than ever. A brand archetype can do all that for you and more.
What Is An Archetype?
“Archetype: a symbol, theme, setting, or character-type that recurs in different times and places in myth, literature, folklore, dreams, and rituals so frequently or prominently as to suggest (to certain speculative psychologists and critics) that it embodies some essential element of ‘universal’ human experience.”
– The Concise Oxford Dictionary of Literary Terms
Expanding on this definition, archetypes are universal characters connecting the conscious and unconscious, bridging gaps between meanings, moods, desires, and concepts. Archetypes embody the stories and journeys that human beings share across time and space. They align us with a cause, value and purpose while helping us understand complex emotions, experiences and lessons along the way.
As humans we can’t help but be drawn to various archetypes along our own life journeys, aligning with various artists, characters or individuals who fully embody the archetype currently activated in our own experiences. For example, a teenager may align with a Rebel archetype as they explore their growing independence. Or a Millennial woman may be called to travel the world solo and look to Explorer archetypes as role models for her adventure.
While traditional marketing speaks to quantitative data known as demographics, the brand archetype process connects on a deeper level with the customer’s subconscious. By aligning your brand or company with a primary (and sometimes secondary) archetype, you purposefully engage a core value set that outshines any quantitative data that aims to retain long-term customers.
What is not a brand archetype? Archetypes are not stereotypes nor are they avatars. While stereotypes are typically superficial characterizations, archetypes represent a full-spectrum of both positive and negative characteristics that provide in-depth understanding to the archetype’s essence and meaning. Stereotypes, as well as many avatar exercises employed by marketing agencies today, are quick and easy ways to categorize characteristics. They are easy ways to put our customers in a box but often lack the real essence of what makes them living, breathing beings.
THE BENEFITS OF A BRAND ARCHETYPE
“Brands associated with archetypal identities positively and profoundly influence the real asset valuation of their companies.”
– Young & Rubicam
Now that we know what archetypes are, let’s explore how they can benefit your brand.
Archetypes offer a variety of benefits when used correctly in a brand’s strategy. When properly defined, a brand archetype can:
Create brand meaning for customers
Align ideal customers with a brand’s product or service
- Create brand meaning for customers
- Align ideal customers with a brand’s product or service
- Attract a loyal and long-term customer base
- Humanize marketing initiatives
- Increase authenticity and trust of a brand
- Successfully create a new brand
- Navigate a re-branding experience
- Build a brand’s global accountability and integrity
- Help a brand stand out in a crowded industry or market
- Define a brand’s core values and help articulate them in marketing campaigns
- Provide clarity and creative input in the design process
THE 12 BASIC BRAND ARCHETYPES
With over 60 brand archetypes now used, there are 12 core brand archetypes that set the foundation for all that have come after. These 12 brand archetypes were first discussed by Mark and Pearson, who outlined each archetype’s unique expression in both marketing and branding initiatives.
MUSE | The Muse is all about simplicity. In such a fast-paced world, we can get carried away with comparison, desire and the fast lane. The Innocent allows us to go back to simpler times, engaging in simple pleasures that bring us joy. The Innocent is forever optimistic and faithful in the good life, a life many desire in an imperfect world. Brand Example: Folgers Coffee
EXPLORER | The Explorer is about independence and nonconformity. Explorers seek a better world through adventure and experience, in part due to their fear of mediocrity. The Explorer seeks a more authentic and fulfilling life and avoid anything that ties them down. Mobility is key, allowing Explorers to continually stretch and grow through their experiences. Brand Example: Patagonia/Starbucks
SAGE | The Sage values truth and wisdom. As teachers, the Sage archetype seeks out information and knowledge and shares it so mistakes will not be repeated. They strive to make the world a better place through facts and information. Experts and advice-givers are considered Sages, as are teachers and researchers. Brand Example: Oprah Winfrey
HERO | The Hero, possibly one of the most well-known archetypes, embodies the path of transformation. The Hero will overcome a major obstacle, battle or adversity in order to redeem both themselves and those they fight for. Courage is often associated with the Hero and energetic action its strong suit. Brand Example: Nike
MAVERICK | The Maverick (also known as the Rebel or Outlaw) is a leader in revolutions, defying the status quo and disrupting what no longer works. They embody a variety of countercultures, often seen as renegades in an otherwise cookie cutter society. Brand Example: Harley-Davidson
ALCHEMIST | The Magician makes things happen. By understanding how things work from the inside out, the Magician attempts to make dreams come true and the impossible, possible. Their visions are driven both by intuition and a deep sense of knowing, creating profound healing, success and perspective for those around them. They work particularly well with ideas, making them a reality (e.g. entrepreneurs). Brand Example: Richard Branson
ADVOCATE | The Advocate desires a deep connection with others. Altruism and respect, alongside fairness, drive the Advocate towards positive action for all. Seeing the value in the collective, this Advocate calls others into action while standing on principle. Brand Example: TOMS Shoes
LOVER | Sensual pleasure, intimacy, romance, and gender identity are the Lover’s core characteristics. Food, drink, spa experiences…a variety of sensorial brands incorporate the Lover archetype into their branding. Brand Example: Chanel
ENTERTAINER | A comical character, the Entertainer looks to lighten things up when life gets too serious. Laughter is life’s best medicine and the Entertainer archetype aims to bring a fun to everything it does. Brand Example: Saturday Night Live (SNL)
HEALER | The Healer inspires and embodies empathy, faith and passion. As a conduit to wholeness, the Healer archetype aims to restore and transform in the name of wellness. Brand Example: Hay House
CREATOR | Creativity is at the heart of the Creator archetype, relying on non-linear thought and imagination to create that which has yet to exist. Artists and entrepreneurs are classic Creators, as are storytellers and visionaries. Brand Example: Etsy
RULER | Representing power and control, the Ruler asks us to step up and take a lead for the world we create. Rulers can be seen as commanding and powerful, infused with a sense of status and achievement. Brand Example: The United States of America
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