Many cultural symbols that have established over the years come precisely from the image that certain brands have built around their values. Coca-Cola, Apple, Nike, or Nutella became established their presence by choosing to communicate messages that refer to universal patterns that catalogue human behaviour in any culture. These patterns are precisely the archetypes. Let’s take a closer look at what they are and how they can be used within the strategic definition of brand identity.
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Archetypal branding: what it is
Archetypal branding refers to an approach for brand building based on universally recognized human behaviours. The goal of this approach is to create an emotional connection with one’s target audience and a distinctive identity. Brand archetypes can be used to develop a coherent communication strategy and to create a distinctive and recognizable image. However, it is important to emphasize that they are only conceptual tools and that each brand is unique in its identity and expression.
The word “archetype” comes from the Greek arché (“original,” “government”) and típos (“pattern,” “mark,” “exemplar”). The first theories about archetypes were devised by Carl Gustav Jung, a Swiss psychiatrist and psychoanalyst. Jung argued that each of us comes into the world with a primitive pattern given by the unconscious and inherited from humankind’s experience over the millennia, the basis for building a personal identity. He believed that there are typical unconscious behaviours in all human beings that guide the actions necessary to pursue primal goals and cravings. In fact, each archetype is driven by a powerful desire and tends toward a specific goal.
Archetypes entered the marketing sphere thanks to Margaret Mark and Carol Pearson‘s work “The Hero and the Outlaw. Building extraordinary brands through the power of archetypes.” The authors analyse the most famous brands that have succeeded, precisely because of models identified with archetypes.
Using archetypal branding within one’s strategy means choosing one or more archetypes that best identify the brand, values, mission, and that are most likely to satisfy the desires of the audience.
Why archetypes are needed
Archetypal branding aims to connect the brand personality, the image that represents it, and its communication with the customer. Just like the character in a fairy tale relating to the readers.
Archetypes are very helpful in bringing out the soul of the brand so that it is also the soul of the customer. They can design the atmosphere and visual style of the brand – such as colours, fonts, images etc., – but also the communication style and tone of voice, achieving an integrated and consistent communication through the establishment of solid guidelines.
It should be remembered, however, that even if one chooses the same archetypes as another brand, it does not mean that the two are the same. In fact, using archetypal branding does not mean assigning labels, but getting to know a character, its strengths and weaknesses, aspirations and fears, that is, the aspects that differentiate each company.
Jung’s 12 archetypes
Jung catalogued 12 archetypes, divided by fundamental needs, which are:
- independence – looking for peace and serenity (innocent, wise, explorer)
- change – leaving an impact (rebel, wizard, hero)
- stability – giving structure (caregiver, ruler, creator)
- belonging – creating relationships (lover, jester, friend)
Let us now analyse each individual archetype to understand what traits distinguish them.
It has a positive and optimistic personality: it focuses on the safety and happiness of loved ones. The values it firmly believes in are honesty and purity of spirit. It has no negative or vindictive feelings. Its communication is simple, positive and honest. Brands that choose this archetype focus on spreading a sense of security, inner beauty and purity. It is ideal for the fields of cosmetics, health, and cleaning.
Having a simple life, feeling free to express yourself and be yourself.
Purity, selflessness, optimism, honesty, simplicity.
Afraid that the world will take a negative direction, may feel fragile.
An example of the innocent archetype
Here, Dove celebrates the beauty of every woman by exploring the campaign’s protagonists’ perceptions of themselves compared to others’ perceptions of them, through drawings made by a person who does not see them, but listens to them. The innocence here is perceived in the message the campaign aims to convey: how our image changes when we are the ones looking at us, compared to when others look at us. The values conveyed are: optimism, simplicity, honesty.
The wise is distinguished by his knowledge and wisdom as well as his polished language. It always seeks the truth. Its goal is to know the world deeply and then to share this knowledge with others. Study and curiosity guide its every action. This archetype is suitable for the media, news, university, and consulting fields.
Seeking truth in all its forms and share it.
Curiosity, precision, independence, balance.
Fear of being deceived or misunderstood.
An example of the wise archetype
In this advertisement, Google Home gives precise and detailed information, almost anticipating the family’s requests. Like a well of truth, it answers every question very carefully, not making a single mistake. The values conveyed are: precision, attention to detail, knowledge.
The explorer is characterized by a great tendency to step out of one’s comfort zone and the everydayness of life. It is courageous, adventurous and loves to challenge itself all the time. It enjoys traveling and challenging the boundaries of modern life. In fact, it tends to be averse to social conventions. It is the ideal archetype for extreme sports, technical equipment, automotive and adventure travel.
Freedom, independence and making new experiences.
Adventurous spirit, autonomy, courage.
Fear of conforming and being trapped.
An example of the explorer archetype
Here, North Face communicates the courage and adventurous spirit of the three main characters, who decide to go to Georgia to climb Ushba and make a ski descent. This mystical 4710-meter mountain in the Caucasus Mountains is very remote and can only be reached on foot. The values communicated are: resourcefulness, courage, boldness.
This archetype disdains rules and anything that restricts freedom of choice and action. Unlike the explorer, the rebel is driven by anger, which in part determines its motivation to change what is not working. Its every action is driven by a battle to be led or a revolution to be carried out. It resents the status quo and conformity. Its style is informal and determined. The archetype is ideal in the fields of automotive, alternative fashion, work tools.
Changing what is not working, even through revolutions.
Independence, instinct, honesty.
Homologizing and being inefficient.
An example of the rebel archetype
In this Harley Davidson commercial, the protagonist breaks out of all patterns and rebels against the everydayness that suffocates him. He runs away and lives on the streets until he finds his inner child, his true deepest desires. The motorcycle, which is seen only at the end, is the symbol of his freedom, won after his rebellion. The values here are: freedom, combat, independence.
The magician is the archetype of transformation and power. Its purpose is to make dreams come true and bring magical moments to life through the renewal of everything around it. It is able to find scientific or supernatural solutions to create something out of nothing, like an alchemist, a scientist, an engineer. Its every action is driven by the desire to transform reality through the use of positive energies and stratagems. It is the ideal archetype for the fields of entertainment, beauty, wellness, and health.
Fulfilling others’ wishes.
Charisma, innovation and charm.
Fears negative consequences.
An example of the wizard archetype
In this commercial, Disney makes everyone become a child again: it shows the magic that is enjoyed on one of its cruises, in any setting and at any time of day. The message the company wants to convey is that a cruise with Disney is a dream that comes true. The values conveyed are: transformation, enchantment, and reassurance.
The hero represents the warrior who accepts challenges and always faces them head-on; it is ready to put itself out and improve itself. It faces every obstacle with courage, determination and discipline. It is an inspiration to others as it helps people find the motivation to fight their own demons. Its life purpose is to triumph over adversity, leaving a mark on the world. The hero archetype is ideal for the sports industry.
Improving the world and overcoming one’s own limitations.
Courage, determination, justice.
Being considered weak.
An example of the hero archetype
Nothing is impossible, especially for Nike: this is the message the commercial wants to convey. Nike speaks directly to the people, communicating that they will do great things, even if they don’t expect it. The message it wants to get across is: you can do anything if you have the right mindset. The values here are: honesty, courage, encouragement.
The caregiver is compassionate and selfless, always putting others first. Its goal is to be a guide and support its loved ones, especially in the most difficult times. Its daily commitment is to welcome people and make them feel safe. It is therefore ideal for businesses related to senior citizenship, non-profits, education and health.
Caring for his neighbour.
Generosity, selflessness, welcoming.
It fears selfishness and indifference.
An example of the angel archetype
Unicef, in this campaign, touches the sensibilities of every viewer, showing how what may seem like a movie plot is a reality in Ethiopia. The angel that is in Unicef saves orphaned children, giving them a future. The values conveyed here are: reassurance, care, acceptance.
It is a born leader, wanting an orderly world and system, able to help others succeed and be secure. The archetypal ruler seeks order and control in everything it does, demanding organization. It wants to make others feel important. Ideal for automotive, hotel, luxury, watch, and haute couture brands.
An ordered world.
Organization, leadership, precision.
It is afraid of chaos and losing control.
An example of the ruler archetype
The luxury and preciousness of Rolex in this campaign is crystal clear: the attention to detail, the precision workmanship, and the papers certifying the watch’s durability are shown. The campaign aims to convey a sense of perfection, power and superiority through a luxury product that makes anyone who wears it special.
The creator finds satisfaction in creating something that did not exist before, but it also loves control and desires freedom. It inspires people to feel creative and to bring out the best in themselves. It feels accomplished when it gets the end result it had in mind. The creator is the most commonly used archetype for the fields of art, design, IT, and marketing.
Creating value that lasts.
Creativity and imagination.
It fears mediocrity.
An example of the creator archetype
Lego, in this commercial, wants to inspire children to build their own creations, using their imagination. This is because parents have already taught them to think and dream, and using Lego allows them to put what they have learned into practice. The values communicated are: inspiration, originality, sensitivity.
The lover seeks authentic relationships, sincerity and intimacy. It is driven by a desire to feel special to others. It builds healthy and stable relationships through honesty and passion. This archetype is not just passion, but encompasses all kinds of love: parental, familial, spiritual, friendly. The lover suits the fields of travel, food & wine, luxury, cosmetics.
Building healthy relationships with people.
Passion, poetry, aesthetics.
Loneliness, not being loved.
An example of the lover archetype
Nothing can make the heart flutter more than a marriage proposal. In this commercial, Tiffany takes on the role of the lover with the goal of establishing a deep relationship with the audience by showing a romantic and intimate atmosphere. The values are: love, intimacy, empathy.
It is the court jester, sincere and outspoken, who loves to surround itself with the good things in life and can always see the funny side things. It likes to entertain and can make people feel good because of its light-heartedness. Thanks to its irony, it is able to say things clearly, making use of its joking tone of voice. Suitable for beverages, baby products, confectionery, professional services.
Helping others enjoy every moment of their lives.
Cheerfulness, lightness and enthusiasm.
An example of the lover archetype
M&M’s has always intended to entertain the viewer with its campaigns, creating a world in which the M&Ms talk and joke with each other. In this commercial the viewer does not immediately understand why the M&M feels “stuck”. It is only shortly after that the viewers understand that it is because they are actually glued together into a single tablet of chocolate. The communicative intent is to entertain and make viewers smile.
H3 12. Friend
The archetype of the friend, also called the common man, is ordinary and its goal is to create a world in which everyone can feel fulfilled and appreciated for who they are. It loves collaboration and feeling part of a group. The friend is genuine, likeable, and has a great sense of duty. It prefers authenticity and sincerity over status symbols and luxury. It is ideal for everyday products, such as household cleaning.
Desire for others’ fulfilment.
Authenticity, honesty, respect.
WeaknessesFear of not feeling accepted.
An example of the friend archetype
Ikea is the perfect example of the friend archetype. It offers functional and affordable products for the everyday person, without targeting a specific audience, because everyone needs that kind of things in their everyday life. In this commercial, Ikea wants to send a strong message to as many people as possible: we don’t invent new products; we invent new habits.
How to choose your brand archetype
To figure out which archetype best represents the brand, it is necessary to analyse its values and mission, and which guiding principles it wants to convey. It is useful to identify the personality traits you want to express and which archetypes represent them. In addition, market analysis and research can be used to understand the opinion about consumers’ perception of the company. Figuring out the ideal type of audience to target can play an important role in choosing the archetype. So, ask yourself what traits, values, and inspirations pertain to your customers.
The most important aspect, however, is to mix together traits of different archetypes so as to create a unique and unrepeatable character-band. With this principle, you can be free to play with not only values and strengths, but also colours and tones of voice that represent the brand and distinguish it from the competition.
We can summarize the basic steps for choosing archetypes as follows:
1. Understand the audience’s desires;
2. Identify the brand personality;
3. Choose the right mix of archetypes;
4. Give your own image a position in the world and a defined style.
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