At both a local and international scale, consumers and businesses are faced with an abundance of choices today. In such a combative marketplace for attention, brand switching has become commonplace and brand loyalty has become far less attainable.
It has changed the brandscape forever.
Over the past few decades, this has led to the branding discipline evolving rapidly and in lockstep with our tech-centric, “always on” lifestyles. While some brands have intuitively embraced constant communication through social media as a substitute for a thorough brand strategy, ironically it’s come at a loss to differentiation as challenger and follower brands look to the established brand’s conventions in order to keep up with the content onslaught.
In a sea of sameness, brand personality, brand voice and values have re-risen as the primary tools for established brands to re-master their competitive advantage.
One of the tools we use to inspire our clients to develop their character and brand personality is Brand Archetypes.
Where did brand archetypes originate from?
Brand archetypes are loosely based on the seminal work by Dr Carol S Pearson conducted over the ‘70s, ‘80s and ‘90s which in turn heavily referenced Jungian theory of storytelling and his ideas around the “collective unconsciousness”.
Pearson and Jung both argued that in the whole history of storytelling, stemming back from medieval times, 12 character Archetypes keep recurring. Their monikers may have changed and evolved over the millennia, but these archetypal personalities, behaviours, attributes and values have largely remained the same.
What are the brand archetypes?
Let’s start with the Everyman. The modus operandi for this archetype is to fit into communities in a way that connects with everyone in it. Down to earth, friendly, relatable - he’s the Tom Hanks of branding and he’s often used to exemplify the average customer. Bunnings and IKEA are brands that draw authentic and relatable brand experiences through the eyes of the Everyman archetype.
The Hero is our dynamic, fearless, resilient rescuer archetype. They are driven by compassion but are born to perform and inspire their fans to reach their peak. These brands exert mastery in a way that betters their world and can draw fanaticism from their audiences for it. Look to Nike, Duracell or BMW for inspiration here.
Then, we have the Innocent who approaches the word with wide-eyed optimism, goodness and morality. From Snow White, to Simba to Wall-E and Coco, The Walt Disney Company has created an entire genre of films entering around these characters. The innocent archetype is important as a moral compass for society, representing its mores and ethos and can be restorative or nostalgic in its expressions. Cadbury, Dove and Coca Cola are examples of this archetype.
The world also needs Caregivers who are all about helping, and nurturing people and keeping them free from harm. They’re the warm hug you get from a Johnson & Johnson baby shampoo ad. Not-for-profit organisations and service based organisations love to channel to the Caregiver archetype for its powerfully altruistic, positive and familial qualities.
The Lover wears its heart on its sleeve. A charming and hapless romantic, this archetype is used by lots of chocolate and jewellery brands worldwide. Eliciting feelings of affection and intimacy; the Lover spirit embodies beauty, aspiration and, sometimes, drama to build a powerful and engaging connection with audiences. Idealism, romance and abundant positivity are at the centre of an archetypal Lover story providing the brands who use this archetype with a dreamy, aspirational and wonderfully sentimental quality.
The Sage is guided by intelligence, the discovery of truth and original thinking. Unsurprisingly a lot of academic organisations use this archetype as a base for their brands, but it’s how they dial up the nuances in the archetypal characteristics that make the difference. The Sage is very much about the pursuit of excellence, expertise and free thinking. Some Sage-like brands will downplay elements that make them appear aloof, elite or supercilious, while others enjoy playing up their subject-matter mastery to reinforce their leadership. Publications such as The New Yorker and Harvard Business Review both come to mind as brands that play with these tensions.
Want to know your brand archetype? Take our quiz!
The Outlaw, in spite of their name, are not bad guys at all. In fact, they see themselves more as liberators and revolutionaries who uphold their truth and speak out for their ardent fans. Brands that adopt this archetype are renegades and lead by challenging convention in order to pave the way for others, or in some instances, carving out their own distinct territory. Think of the rebel hearts like MTV and Diesel Jeans for inspiration on how to use this archetype.
Creators love to create things of enduring value and give form out of vagueness. Self expression and experimentation is a big characteristic amongst these archetypes - think of brands like Crayola, Lego and Adobe. Brands that embrace the Creator archetype foster innovation, providing consumers options and choices that inspire new thinking.
The Explorer yearns for freedom to discover the world and experience a more fulfilling life. There’s a sense of self-sufficiency, self-belief, courage and confidence in their actions. Their driving force is the pursuit of awe. Beyond the travel brands, I often like to think of the risk takers such as Red Bull as representative of this brand archetype.
The Magician or Wizard archetype is about transforming ideas into reality. There’s a sense of mastery, surprise and delight in how they work - think of Playstation or even their master brand, Sony, whose slogan is fittingly “make-believe”. In addition to the transformative and mystical power of these brands, there’s a spiritual force that emits from the Magician archetype that can provoke a cult-like following amongst their most loyal followers. Technology brands in particular love to embody the Magician spirit.
The Ruler is all about control, authority and power. Their intentions are usually noble rather than magnanimous, but they typically represent model behaviour, security and stability in a market category. They’re the undisputed leaders and are not afraid to own that territory. Brands that do this well are respected for their leadership. A lot of heritage luxury brands such as Rolex and Mercedes are typical Ruler class archetypes.
And finally, the Jester. In a world where there’s plenty of sadness going around, we need more of these archetypes. They aren’t just about tomfoolery and having a laugh though. In traditional times, the Jesters in a royal court literally risk their necks to tell the King the truth. They get away with it because of the way they tell it - subversively, idiosyncratically, courageously and always pushing at the edges of the boundaries set by the ruling class. The Ben & Jerry’s ice cream brand bridges these social and entertainment tensions brilliantly.
So there’s our 12 brand archetypes! As individual benchmarks, these archetypes act as an effective base to act as shorthand from which to build out a brand’s personality.
At times, brands can feel torn between Archetypes - and that’s ok. Typically, we work with our clients to mix archetypal characteristics to form a distinct personality for their own brands. In fact, the Thirst Creative brand personality was crafted this way - see if you can guess what archetypes we used.
If you want to read more about archetypes, I highly recommend Carol S Pearson’s book - Awakening the Hero Within. You’ll learn so much about these foundational characters, and perhaps, a little more about yourself…