In every story and fable you can find the hero, the innocent and the lover, but can you identify these in the brand world?

This week we are exploring brand archetypes. In ‘The Hero And The Outlaw’, Mark and Pearson outline 12 archetypes – essentially character types that recur again and again through human storytelling history. They are recognised, subconsciously, by everyone in the world. By working out which of these archetypes best represents your brand, and building that knowledge into brand and business strategy, you can begin to tap into this subconscious recognition to create better engagement with the customer. It helps not only attract the right customer but also repels the wrong one.

There are 12 archetypes broken into 4 core pursuits; being, belonging, becoming and doing. That is:

  • being – a pursuit of fulfilment or searching for paradise
  • becoming – a pursuit to act and impact, to create change
  • belonging – a pursuit to connect, interact, belong
  • doing – a pursuit to do or control, to in-still stability

Within each pursuit there are 3 brand archetypes:

  • being – sage, explorer and the innocent
  • becoming – outlaw, hero, magician
  • belonging – regular guy/girl, jester, lover
  • doing – caregiver, ruler, creator

The best way to bring these to life is via characters and example brands:

  • Caregiver – Dalai lama – brands that pride themselves on being safe Volvo is a strong example of this or Huggies
  • Ruler – Queen Victoria – Luxury and exclusive brands are predominately positioned here for example, Rolex and Mercedes
  • Creator – Frida – A brand that helps foster innovation and creativity, brands include Crayola and Lego
  • Regular guy/girl – Carrie Bickmore – likeable, appealing to all, a mirror of yourself such as Ikea or Walmart
  • Jester – Captain Jack Sparrow – connects through humour and fun for example Ben & Jerry’s or M&Ms
  • Lover – Marilyn Monroe – connect through the sensors for example Magnum, BMW, Victoria Secret
  • Innocent – Snow White – draws on nostalgia and can be childlike, commonly linked to Coke and McDonalds, brands which you could view as unhealthy, drawing attention away from this
  • Sage – Yoda – brands that value their expertise and knowledge such as Wikipedia or Discovery Channel
  • Explorer – Indiana Jones – usually stays current with trends and encourage expression of their individuality, adopted by travel brands, Expedia and REI
  • Hero – Katniss Everdeen – Brands that strive for consistent results and be the best, Nike and FedEx play here
  • Outlaw – Steve Jobs – brands that rebel against the norm, want to stand out for being different
  • Magician – Harry Potter – promises transformation such as Lynx and Disney

To identify your brand’s archetype, a process of elimination can be undertaken. Shuffle the ‘deck’ and go through one by one, removing those that don’t fit well or feel right. When you have whittled it down to a few, hopefully there is some concentration within the quadrants, this helps identify the core pursuit of the brand. A brand can make it work across two archetypes, but if this is the case, it may be historically the brand has been the “outlaw” but the future desires is the “creator”.
Apple is a great example of this; in the Steve Job’s reign Apple’s brand purpose was all about challenging the status quo – they were the “outlaw”. They challenged the norm in both design and function, which gave them the “permission” to move from computers, into other categories like music and smartphones. Whereas now Apple identify more in line with the “creator”, seeking the desire to create something of enduring value.

The archetype shouldn’t be limited to brand work, it also gives businesses a guide to shape their behaviour and business strategy around. For example, if you are a clothing brand and identify your brand as the “caregiver” and then are exploiting garment workers, the archetype doesn’t work (and also maybe look at updating your supply chain in line with social conscious). Or if you are the “outlaw” and are not supporting social movements around your product or brand, maybe you should update the internal policies or revisit the brand archetypes too.