In this post, we’re tackling the complex topic of brand archetypes. But don’t worry, we take it one step at a time. We’ll start with an exploration of the concept, tracing its roots back to the early days of psychology. Then we’ll explore each brand archetype—with examples—so you can get an idea of which your brand might fit best.
Next, we address the potential weaknesses of each archetype so you can proactively address them, enabling you to create a powerful, dynamic, and long-lived brand persona. Finally, we’ll delve into sub-archetypes so you’ll know how to build a brand that automatically resonates with the public.
Let’s get started.
What is a brand archetype?
Psychiatrists of the 19th century were the first to notice that many ancient works of fiction shared common characteristics. That is, these ancient works often featured hero characters that fell into certain personality profiles. Today, we call these personality profiles ‘archetypes.’ For instance, the following are common archetypes in ancient fiction:
• The hero
• The anti-hero
• The wise fool
• The devil figure, or demon
• The outcast
• The double
• The scapegoat
Nature, too, was characterized this way. For instance, it was common for spring to represent rebirth and fertility, while winter was portrayed as a time of death. One of the first 19th century psychiatrists to notice this was Carl Jung. It was from these ancient works of fiction that he drew his 12 personality archetypes.
You can apply these archetypes to people in a very broad way, but whether it’s a useful tool in psychiatry is up for debate. What is known, and what is infinitely more useful to us, is that this impulse to stereotype is rooted deeply in human psychology. People respond to it.
This means, of course, that you can profit from it.
You can see it everywhere in marketing.
• Captain Morgan, the irreverent rogue
• Colonel Sanders, the wise old man
• The M&M’s spokes candies, the comedians
• Jonathan Goldsmith, the infinite cool
Even better, once you understand the 12 archetypes, you can create a mascot—or brand image—that’s laser-focused. You can portray a brand personality that’s deeply rooted in human psychology. People will subconsciously respond to you favorably if they resonate with the archetype you’ve chosen to emulate.
Sound good? Let’s look at each of the Jungian archetypes, and then we’ll see how they apply to the brand.
#1 The Ruler
The Ruler, as you might guess, is a leader. Their priority is to bring order. The ruler is quiet, but they may come across as a perfectionist. This isn’t a bad thing if they can consistently project an air of competence and can back that up. The ruler naturally wants everyone to follow their lead.
#2 The Creator
The Creator’s main priority is to express their creativity. Compared to the Ruler, they are quite laid back. They love novelty and they love to create new combinations. The creator is clever, self-sufficient and they chafe at any sort of imposed conformity.
#3 The Sage
The Sage is a thinker. A philosopher. Their top priority is cognition and critical thinking. They seek to understand the world around them and doing so is their grandest adventure. To do this, they bring to bear great intelligence and analytical skills. They can be quick—sometimes too quick—to offer a fact or quote in any situation.
#4 The Innocent
The Innocent is optimistic, to the point of naivete. They search for happiness in any situation and see the good in everything and everyone. The innocent tends to want to please others and pursues a sense of belonging.
#5 The Explorer
The bold traveler. They set out for uncharted waters, not necessarily hoping for adventure. It’s more that they must answer the call to see what’s out there. They have a deep love of discovering new places, things, or people. They can be prone to perfectionism in that they’re never satisfied.
#6 The Caregiver
The Caregiver has very high empathy. They want the best for other people and can’t stand it when another being is in pain. They offer physical and emotional protection whenever they can—sometimes to the extent that others come to rely on them too much. This archetype can be prone to self-sacrifice and can become a martyr.
#7 The Magician
The revolutionary. The Magician is an innovator, creating remarkable things seemingly from thin air. They are masters of transformation, frequently reinventing themselves. They’re capable of turning a negative into a positive, but they can also do the reverse.
#8 The Hero
The Hero has uncommon strength and vitality, and they use these assets to fight for virtuous causes. They’ll go to any lengths to avoid defeat. It’s hard for the hero to lose because they don’t give in.
#9 The Rebel
The Rebel provokes. They stand out from the crowd. Like the Creative, they resent conformity. However, they’re more roguish or aggressive about it. They enjoy going against the grain and avoiding the mainstream. They take pride in thinking for themselves. If taken to extremes, the rebel can become self-destructive.
#11 The Jester
The Jester loves to laugh. Laughter is their medicine. They’ll make others laugh if they can, but often, they’re just out to create entertainment for themselves. They’re prone to boredom and pursue outlandish or unusual sources of entertainment, often creating it. They enjoy drawing people out of their shells and getting them to share a laugh.
#12 The Orphan/Everyman
The Everyman wears their feelings on their sleeve. They often have unresolved psychic wounds and never hesitate to make that known. They often feel betrayed, and they can be suspicious of others. The Orphan can be cynical and manipulative. However, playing the victim doesn’t jive well with establishing a powerful brand. So from this point out, the orphan archetype will represent everyone’s need for justice, acceptance and belonging. The Orphan represents the Everyman.
So, to use our examples from above, we have:
• Captain Morgan, the explorer
• Colonel Sanders, the sage
• The M&M’s spokes candies, the jesters
• Jonathan Goldsmith, the rebel
For instance, Colonel Sanders is the sage, but he’s also a creator. Jonathan Goldsmith, in his quest to be the most interesting man in the world, is a rebel. But he’s also something of a hero in that he inspires others to seek their own path.
Ronald McDonald is a jester, but he’s also innocent.
The Marlboro Man is a rebel, but he’s also a magician. He took something self-destructive and dangerous and transmuted it into a socially acceptable, if not ‘cool’—for the time—activity.
As we’ll see in a later section, you can mix and match these archetypes to come up with unique—and powerful—sub-archetypes.
Nike, of course, is a leader, a creative, and maybe even a caregiver. They innovate, but they also provide high-quality gear that makes athletes safer and helps them perform better. An underlying theme in all of their messaging is their passion for supporting athletes.
Applying the Archetypes to Branding
Developing a robust, resilient brand requires creating a well-defined brand personality. One way to do that is to base your brand personality on one of these archetypes. Doing so narrows your focus. You can go straight to creating branding assets that align with the archetype you want to emulate. The earlier in the process you do this, of course, the more effective it will be.
In order to translate the Jungian archetypes to branding, we’ll need to assign each archetype a branding-specific attribute. So let’s do that now.
1. THE RULER—GATEKEEPER
2. THE CREATOR—EXPRESSION
3. THE SAGE—RESPECT
4. THE INNOCENT—CHARM
5. THE EXPLORER—FREEDOM
6. THE CAREGIVER—TRUST
7. THE MAGICIAN—WISH FULFILLMENT
8. THE HERO—CHALLENGE
9. THE REBEL—NONCONFORMITY
10. THE LOVER—INTIMACY
11. THE JESTER—HUMOR
12. THE ORPHAN—EVERYMAN
Note: Notice what we did there with the Orphan? Playing the victim doesn’t jive well with establishing a powerful brand. So from this point out, the orphan archetype will represent everyone’s need for justice, acceptance and belonging. The Orphan represents the everyman.
WHY BOTHER WITH ALL THIS?
There are two primary reasons:
• Connection. If all you ever do is compete on price, features, and benefits, you may be okay. That could be enough. But more and more, today’s consumers crave a deep connection to the brands they interact with. Building your brand identity on an archetype gives you a much better chance of connecting with your target demographic.
• Differentiation. If you sell a widget, and Bob down the road sells the same or a very similar widget, why should a customer pick you over Bob? The answer: connection. But in order to connect, you need to differentiate yourself from the competition. One way to do that is to build a strong brand personality. Using an archetype as a base, you can create a memorable brand personality that consumers will want to interact with.
Mixing Brand Archetypes
When an entrepreneur starts out on their branding journey, it’s common for them to ask, “What if I identify with more than one brand archetype?”
You will, and that’s okay.
In fact, it’s more than okay.
While we all stereotype—whether we like to or not—we also identify with people who feel real, or authentic. Depending on your industry, if you go full tilt into a single brand persona, you may risk alienating people who would otherwise give you a chance. What’s more, some archetypes have overlapping or complementary attributes. It’s only natural to want to put them together.
One way to do this is to identify your core archetype and then to identify one or two supporting archetypes. We recommend a secondary and a tertiary. By incorporating these sub-archetypes into your brand persona, you accomplish two things:
• You make your brand seem more real, and thus, more relatable.
• You fold in the strengths of other archetypes while addressing the weaknesses of your primary archetype.
However, it’s important to note that a clearly-defined primary brand persona is still important. Having a clear cut primary archetype that drives your brand persona will help consumers connect with you on an instinctual level.
Each archetype from the list above has a clear motivation. When considering sub-archetypes, it’s vital that you keep these motivations in mind. For instance, coupling the sage with the jester might be hard to pull off. Likewise, the lover and the innocent would seem to be polar opposites. Could you pull it off? Perhaps. Should you try? Definitely, if it fits your brand.
The bottom line:
Identifying your two sub-archetypes early on is important. But if you go much further than that, your brand persona will start to blur. You’ll have a tough time getting your values across, and your messaging will be muddy.
A WORD ON CONSISTENCY
Once you hit upon your brand identity, you’ll be able to build your brand persona. What you don’t want to do is stop midway. So no drastic U-turns without a very good reason. Brand persona takes time to establish and build upon. Don’t throw your hard work away.
GoDaddy is an established domain registrar and hosting service. Maybe they could survive a massive rebranding, say, to something more serious. But would it be a good idea to do so? Probably not. The move would alienate their existing customer base, and they would have little to gain.
Consider the New Coke fiasco. Coke wanted to ensure they stayed ahead of their biggest rival, Pepsi. So they reinvented themselves with an all new formula. It wasn’t exactly a big hit, and fans weren’t shy about letting Coca-Cola know. Coke’s messaging throughout the process was decidedly more serious than their previous advertising was.
It was almost as if they were trying to become a sage, or ruler. Instead of listening to their customers, Coca-Cola seemed to be telling the customer what they should want. New Coke was a disastrous flop.