12 Brand Archetypes

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As we look around in our world today, it is easy to see that mass-scale communication often offers more than just information – brands have personalities. Why do these personalities resonate with us, and how can we frame thinking for our own brands for products or organizations? The 12 Brand Archetype model can help.

Industry
Advertising + Marketing Communication

Source
The Hero and the Outlaw; Mark + Peterson

The 12 Brand Archetype model builds on the ideas of psychologist Carl Jung who believed there are core archetypes recognized by humans and often expressed through dreams, mythology, and other forms of literature. Peterson and Mark use these ideas to develop 12 archetypes that can be used in the marketing communication world to differentiate different brands and companies in the marketplace.

What is an Archetype?


Think about it

We live in a world of advertisements. Look around at the advertisements you see, and try to guess whether the advertisers used an Archetype as the basis for their message.

Hint: The best brands are usually from companies that sell commodity products that aren’t super differentiated. Look at alcohol, soft drinks, cars, phone carriers, or fashion brands.

Each archetype is a set of desires, attributes, and potential downfalls of a character type. The Hero, for instance, overcomes adversity through great personal effort to emerge victorious and encourage others to do the same. Brands like the US Army or Nike create messaging inspiring people to realize these attributes within themselves by engaging with their offering (in the case of the army by enlisting or with Nike by buying products).

Nike’s branding pushes it’s customers to be the best version of themselves possible, and proud of it.

Using the Model


When we think about people, we know that our own personalities can take on expressions of each of the archetypes at different times. With a brand, however, it is important to pick one archetype that can be expressed consistently in all of the company’s messaging (and, ideally, other actions).

Harley Davidson plays to the rebellious spirit within its customers.

 

The most important thing is to choose an archetype that expresses not how your customers are, but how they want to feel. Harley Davidson, for instance, uses an “Outlaw” archetype to sell its motorcycles even though there aren’t a lot of real-life outlaws in the market for a $40,000 bike. Instead, Harley sells the idea of being an outlaw to (mostly) middle-aged doctors, lawyers, and business men who want to feel like weekend warriors.

“It’s important for Dos Equis as a brand to evolve with our consumers and their changing attitudes and behaviors. Recent research shows 83% of men want to live an even more interesting life” – from an interview with Andrew Katz, VP of Marketing for Dos Equis

 

Here are a few other things to keep in mind when selecting an archetype:

Choose an archetype that feels right for the company culture.
Employees need to feel that they are part of an organization that represents them, so think about how people in the organization see themselves and the work they do.If your company is filled with buttoned-up engineers that love clean desks and books with small type, branding yourself as “Creative” may not be a smart move.

Make sure it fits with what you’re selling.
There aren’t a lot of “Outlaw” healthcare brands – why might that be? Most industries only have a handful of archetypes that really fit them, though there there is quite a bit of flexibility here than you’d think. An “Outlaw” airline might not charge you fees like those other stodgy, old-time airlines!

Use an archetype that differentiates your company from its competitors.
If your competitors take themselves really seriously, you can differentiate yourself with a jester brand (Pepsi and Camel cigarettes do this a lot). Left-leaning political parties often position themselves as caregivers (we need to care of those that can’t care of themselves) while right-wing parties trend toward Ruler brands (we have to be fiscally responsible, even if that means making hard decisions).

 

To differentiate from competitors, Bud Light, the cheap domestic beer in the United States, celebrates the party rituals of the “Everyman” and “Everywoman.”

Archetypes don’t change, but messages do.


Carl Jung believed that archetypes are actually encoded in our brains as children and as we grow, we project them onto the world around us as a way to understand it. The “collective unconscious,” he believed, was a core reason that mythology and narratives have striking similarities despite their independent development (for example, it is a very common myth for a hero to be born to a virgin).

 

The US army maintains a hero brand in every era.

 

In branding, the goal is to associate your brand with a known concept, then condition your customers and potential customers to remember it when they are in certain situations or want to feel certain ways. To do this, an archetypal feeling can’t change over time – the Army has to always feel heroic, Harley Davidson has to always feel like an outlaw brand.

 

Apple’s branding has always been about inspiring awe.

 

Over the years however, the expression of Hero or Outlaw changes. To keep up with the times, a brand needs to invest in understanding how to best express the tenets of an archetype over time. What does it mean to be heroism, creativity, purity, or care mean in this year to your audience?

Think about it

Think about one of your favorite brands. How would its messaging change if it used a different archetype? For instance, how could a conservative institution like a bank build an “Outlaw” archetype? How could a college use a “Caregiver” archetype? A jester?

Learn More


This book should be required reading not only for those that want to understand marketing and branding, but anyone that needs to generate attention and engagement from a mass audience. It helps us understand that the best way to communicate and sustain behaviors is often not rational but reflective: our audience sees values when we help them feel the way they want to feel and express the version of themselves that they envision.

Find the book on amazon.

Think about it

Think about the archetypes you express in different environments. Which archetypal traits to you embody in different situations? How would different people describe you using this framework? Would your family, coworkers, and friends choose the same archetypes to describe you? Why or why not?

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