Think about your favourite stories. Did you ever notice that the characters within them fall into broad categories? The hard-drinking detective fuelled by cheap liquor... The femme fatale who always has a perfect put down to hand... The naïve youngster whose destiny is to change the world...
These are archetypes – characters defined by generic traits that explain what they stand for and what motivates their actions.
Psychoanalyst superstar Carl Jung believed these archetypes were immediately familiar to us because they are inherent within our subconscious mind – a primal part of everyone’s DNA. Which means such archetypes don’t just exist within stories and characters, they exist within all groups, everywhere, including brands.
What is a brand archetype?
Just as fictional characters are written according to broadly defined paradigms that help us understand their actions, a brand archetype is a way of framing a brand – its symbology, values, behaviours, messages – in a persona, thus making it more recognisable and relatable to target audiences.
Our pal Carl outlined 12 archetypes that can just as easily be applied to brands as they can humans.
The 12 brand archetypes
1. The Magician
Magicians make dreams come true and – hey presto – make problems disappear. They do things, both big and small, that amaze and transform. Intelligent and knowledgeable, magicians have access to secret information, the dissemination of which adds value to customers and positions the brand as problem-solving or wish-fulfilling transformers.
Brand gift: Turning problems into solutions, making dreams come true.
Examples: Disney, Dyson, TUI
2. The creator
The creator has a vision, a way they feel the world should be, and they want to create an enduring product that turns that vision into reality. They crave authenticity, innovation and freedom of expression to make sense of the world around them, and use creativity and technology to enable creativity in others.
Brand gift: Inspiring creativity, creating an authentic brand story, fusing technology and artistry.
Examples: Adobe, GoPro, Apple
3. The Ruler
The ruler seeks to eliminate uncertainty by taking control. They like to follow rules but, even better, they like to make them. (Rulers need followers, after all.) Rulers believe in playing ‘properly’ and create stable, respected brands to suit. They also expect the same propriety from others, which is why so many rulers become politicians.
Sometimes their confidence extends into arrogance and so ruler brands need to be careful not to appear despotic, thus leaving the door open to pretenders to steal their throne.
Brand gift: Fostering stability and trust, creating high-quality products that lead the way.
Examples: Rolls Royce, Microsoft, American Express
4. The lover
Who says romance is dead? Not the lover, that’s for sure, who inspires closer relationships through sensuousness and seductiveness. But it’s not all about romance; the types of relationships the lover fosters are also spiritual, familial, companionable. For lover brands, the focus is on improving connections with the people and things that really matter.
Brand gift: Connecting people emotionally, providing sensuous experiences, making people – and life – more special.
Examples: Victoria’s Secret, Häagen-Dazs, Cesar
5. The caregiver
Caregivers live to give. They’re motivated by compassion and want to make people feel secure and nurtured. As defenders of the less fortunate, caregivers are found in teaching, nursing and charities, but also appear as gardeners, cleaners and in restorative jobs, such as mending clothes and refurbishing.
Because they’re altruistically rather than financially motivated, caregivers are considered trustworthy – although brands such as Heinz have also tapped into the caregiver archetype, describing their products in a quasi-medicinal, nurturing manner.
Brand gift: Making people feel safe, fostering trust, generating public support for the socially minded service they provide
Examples: NSPCC, NHS, Heinz
6. The jester
The class clown, the office joker – we’ve all known one in our time. And, crucially, we all remember them. They want to have fun, to lighten the mood by connecting with their inner child. And, just like most children, they’re not too fond of obeying rules.
Jesters think outside the box because they’ve never spent their lives living in it – which makes them great innovators. On the face of it, jesters live for the moment, but at a deeper level, they understand that life is fleeting and needs to be filled with laughter whenever possible.
Brand gift: Helping people see the lighter side of life, spreading creativity through joy.
Examples: Cadbury’s, Paddy Power, Domino’s
7. The sage
The sage believes that the truth will set you free. They are driven by the desire for truth and knowledge and use them to make the world a better place by sharing their findings. They’re rigorous researchers and reject misleading messaging and ignorance. They typically show higher levels of intelligence and social awareness. As arbiters of information, they are often highly regarded as a trustworthy and intelligent source of information.
Brand gift: Illuminating the world through knowledge-sharing, earning respect through intellectualism.
Examples: TED, The Economist, Discovery Channel
8. The explorer
Explorers are independent thinkers, forging new paths to find purpose in life – and to change it in the process. They are often individualistic in outlook but their clear, strong vision inspires others to join them.
Explorers seek freedom and joy through discovery, often eschewing rules and conformism as a result. This means they’re defined more by their trailblazing philosophy than by the industry in which they work, so that an explorer brand may be one defined simply by decentralising and democratising its internal structures.
Brand gift: Inspiring change through innovative vision and force of personality.
Examples: NASA, Tesla, The Body Shop
9. The rebel
Unlike the explorer, who disregards rules as a by-product of their behaviour, the rebel actively seeks to challenge and break them. Rebels see opportunity in dismantling existing paradigms as a way to create something newer, better and cheaper, and also as a way to position themselves as free-thinking outlaws – a romanticised and intoxicating social archetype.
The aim of the rebel is to undermine the status quo so that people question it, search for better alternatives and – ta-dah – turn to them in the process. Of all archetypes, rebels perhaps inspire the strongest brand loyalty as their countercultural message resonates beyond just the product and into their customers’ lifestyles and philosophies.
Brand gift: Disrupting existing structures, rock ‘n’ roll sex appeal, promoting brand loyalty.
Examples: Harley Davidson, Amazon, Greenpeace
10. The hero
Just like their DC and Marvel spandex-clad counterparts, the hero archetype rises to the challenge. They protect and inspire. They sell the power of self-belief and transformation.
The hero archetype turns a brand into a story of triumph over adversity. So that a brand like Nike isn’t seen as a seller of trainers but as a transformative device that helps people achieve their full potential.
There is a moralism to the hero. They see their work as important and empowering and take great pride in the positive effect they feel they have on the world.
Brand gift: Inspiring courage and achievement by overcoming adversity.
Examples: Nike, Red Cross, The SAS
11. The everyman
The everyman is your salt-of-the-earth type: non-pretentious, relatable, wholesome, comfortable. The everyman values hard work, common sense, reliability and authenticity. They want to appeal to a mass market and so disregard the trappings of luxury. For the everyman, practicality always wins over pretence. Think Ford instead of Ferrari, Gap instead of Gucci.
Symbolically, the everyman allies themselves to families and multiple cultures, appealing to those who sit below the luxury threshold and who, as the brand might describe it, better understand the value of money.
Brand gift: Bringing safety, reliability, trust and comfort to a mass market.
Examples: McCain, Tesco, Ford
12. The innocent
The promise of the innocent archetype is one of simplicity bordering on naivety. The innocent looks at the world through the lens of a child, seeing wonder, fun and happiness at every turn, and hoping to pass that good feeling on through their work. Not usually ones for innovation, innocent brands rely instead on the simplicity of their product (organic food, baby soaps) or through childlike communications (Coca Cola).
Brand gift: Spreading purity and joy in a cynical world.
Examples: Coca Cola, Innocent (obviously), Johnson’s
Where do you fit in?
So, now you know the archetypes, how do you fit in? As an all-conquering and inspiring hero, a child-like innocent, a trailblazing explorer?
Perhaps you’re a mix of two or three types and don’t see yourself neatly fitting into one archetype. Or perhaps you’re in transition, from being a market-disrupting rebel to a well-established ruler – because a benefit of the archetype model is that it isn’t static. You can use it as part of your brand strategy to position yourself at the current moment and to help map out where you want to be in the future.