Of all the tools in the branding toolbox, only brand archetypes can give your brand the strength of shared human experience dating back tens of thousands of years.
One of the most powerful ways to differentiate your brand, brand archetypes let you tap into profound narratives that we’re all familiar with, simply by virtue of being humans in collective societies.
Brand archetypes can help you shape more compelling stories, create a more resonant visual identity, and cultivate more consistent customer experiences.
In what follows we’ll answer some of the most important questions around brand archetypes.
- What are Brand Archetypes?
- A Brief History of Archetypes?
- What are the 12 Brand Archetypes?
- How Archetypes are Used in Branding?
- Examples of Brand Archetypes?
- The Takeaway
Let’s take a closer look at what we mean by brand archetypes, some examples of brand archetypes in the world’s strongest brands, and how you can use the power of brand archetypes for your own brand.
What are Brand Archetypes?
Brand archetypes are timeless characters in stories that every human is familiar with, by virtue of being a human. By identifying which archetype your brand embodies, you can build a brand that audiences recognize at a profound and enduring level.
By embodying the universal stories and journeys that all human beings share, brand archetypes enable you to create deep relevance and lasting differentiation.
A Brief History of Archetypes
Archetypes are as old as storytelling itself. The Greek philosopher Plato first explored the idea of archetypes when he spoke of “elemental forms,” the ideal templates on which everything in the material world is based.
Many great thinkers over the years have had similar theories of primordial “categories” or “imprints,” but it was the psychologist Carl Jung who brought the idea into the modern world.
Jung suggested that our unconscious thoughts and behaviors could be explained by age-old stories that all humans understand—stories that date back to the earliest instance of human consciousness. For Jung, each archetype is connected to a basic human desire. The Outlaw archetype connects with our desire for liberation, the Hero to our desire for mastery, the Creator to our desire for innovation, and so on.
The famed mythologist Joseph Campbell expounded on Jung’s psychological framing of archetypes, exploring how archetypes explain mankind’s ongoing search for meaning in the world through mythology, religion, art, literature, pop culture, and beyond.
Campbell’s theory of the monomyth—a story that appears in cultures around the world and throughout time, where an innocent character goes on an adventure, faces a seemingly insurmountable challenge, wins a decisive victory with the help of a wise mentor, and returns home transformed into a hero—can be seen in stories ranging from Sir Gawain and the Green Knight to Lord of the Rings to Star Wars.
Whether it’s the story of a hero’s epic quest, a caregiver’s benevolent healing, or a lover’s amorous pursuit, archetypes are the characters in the stories we all instinctively understand.
Archetypes were first introduced into branding by Margaret Mark and Carol Pearson in their seminal book “The Hero and the Outlaw: Building Extraordinary Brands Through the Power of Archetypes”. This system of brand archetypes has gone on to inspire countless iterations, charts, diagrams, and even academic studies.
What are the 12 Brand Archetypes?
So, which archetype does your brand embody? To answer this question, you have to explore the details and nuances of the 12 brand archetypes first systemized by Mark and Pearson.
From the Creator to the Jester to the Sage, each brand archetype is defined by different desires, goals, strengths, and weaknesses. The goal is to find the archetype that best aligns with your brand positioning, brand personality, and brand voice
The Creator Archetype
The Creator is passionate about imagination and self-expression. A champion of design and aesthetics, this archetype addresses societal needs for imagination and innovation.
- Desire: Innovation
- Goal: To turn ideas into reality
- Strengths: Creativity, imagination, inventiveness, entrepreneurism, non-conformity
- Weaknesses: Perfectionism, impracticality
- Examples: Walt Disney, Adobe, LEGO, Pinterest
The Ruler Archetype
The Ruler is a leader who embodies power and control. This archetype is confident and commanding, and exalts in its deserved status as a chief within the tribe.
- Desire: Control
- Goal: To create prosperity and success
- Strengths: Leadership, responsibility, organization, administration
- Weaknesses: Authoritarianism, overbearing
- Examples: Rolls-Royce, British Airways, George Washington University, Lloyds TSB
The Caregiver Archetype
The Caregiver is all about the selfless care and nurturing of others. Compassionate and generous, the Caregiver believes that it is its responsibility to help those around it.
- Desire: Service
- Goal: To help others
- Strengths: Caring, nurturing, selflessness, generosity, compassion
- Weaknesses: Inability to say no; propensity for being taken advantage of
- Examples: Dove, Amnesty International, Allstate Insurance
The Everyman Archetype
Driven by a need to feel a sense of belonging, the Everyman believes that everyone matters equally. Like a good neighbor, the Everyman seeks to do the right thing, without heroics or the need for recognition.
- Desire: Belonging
- Goal: To belong
- Strengths: Character, faithfulness, supportiveness, usefulness
- Weaknesses: Group think, ignorance
- Examples: Habitat for Humanity, TOMS Shoes, AAA, Kickstarter
The Jester Archetype
The Jester’s goal is not only to bring levity to the world, but to do so in a way that calls truth to power. The Jester is a trickster who mocks convention with humor that is sometimes self-effacing and sometimes satirically sharp.
- Desire: Enjoyment
- Goal: To bring joy to the world
- Strengths: Humor, originality, irreverence
- Weaknesses: Frivolity, insolence, scatterbrain
- Examples: GEICO, IKEA, Ben & Jerry’s, and Jack in the Box.
The Lover Archetype
Amorous and emotive, the Lover has an affection for the beautiful and a penchant for the collaborative. This archetype fosters blissful experiences both sensual and nurturing.
- Desire: Intimacy
- Goal: Loving relationships
- Strengths: Passion, sensuality, vitality, appreciation
- Weaknesses: Obsession, jealousy, insecurity
- Examples: Chanel, Häagen-Dazs, eHarmony, Tiffany & Co
The Hero Archetype
The Hero is society’s savior and redeemer. Characterized by courage, self-sacrifice, and achievement, the Hero seeks personal transformation in its quest to triumph over adversity.
- Desire: Mastery
- Goal: To improve the world
- Strengths: Courage, honor, strength, confidence, inspiration
- Weaknesses: Arrogance, aloofness, delusions of grandeur
- Examples: Nike, Under Armour, US Army, Doctors Without Borders
The Outlaw Archetype
The Outlaw is an outlaw and harbinger of social change. The consummate provocateur, the Outlaw seeks to challenge the status quo by pushing the envelope on conventional values.
- Desire: Liberation
- Goal: To break the rules
- Strengths: Rebelliousness, iconoclasm, change agent
- Weaknesses: Insolence, disrespect
- Examples: Virgin, Harley-Davidson, Levi Strauss & Co., MTV
The Magician Archetype
Dynamic, charismatic, and clever, the Magician leverages its understanding of the hidden workings of the universe to turn dreams into reality. The Magician is a deep thinker and trusted advisor.
- Desire: Power
- Goal: To turn dreams into reality
- Strengths: Vision, charisma, imagination, idealism
- Weaknesses: Risk-taking, manipulation, trickery
- Examples: Disney, Poloroid, Oculus, Genentech
The Innocent Archetype
The Innocent is the embodiment of purity and virtue. An eternal optimist, the Innocent calls to mind simpler times of childlike wonder free from corruption and cynicism.
- Desire: Safety
- Goal: To be happy
- Strengths: Purity, youth, optimism, morality, goodness
- Weaknesses: Naivete, avoidance, oversimplicity
- Examples: Ivory, Nintendo Wii, Method, Volkswagen
The Explorer Archetype
Forever pushing boundaries in the hopes of discovering new frontiers, the Explorer is innovative and ambitious. This archetype is characterized by wanderlust and freedom, and seeks always to establish its independence.
- Desire: Freedom
- Goal: Discovery and excitement
- Strengths: Adventurousness, ambition, individuality, independence
- Weaknesses: Self-indulgence, aimlessness, alienation
- Examples: REI, Patagonia, Starbucks, NASA
The Sage Archetype
The keeper of wisdom and intelligence, the Sage is the archetype people turn to for counsel and advice. The Sage seeks truth and clarity through diligent research and rational thought.
- Desire: Understanding
- Goal: To understand the world
- Strengths: Knowledge, wisdom, intelligence, thoughtfulness
- Weaknesses: Dogmatism, righteousness, arrogance, inertia
- Examples: Harvard, Rosetta Stone, Mayo Clinic, The Smithsonian
How Archetypes are Used in Branding
Brand archetypes allow you to pinpoint your brand’s authentic essence and bring your brand narrative to life in ways that resonate with your ideal customers. By speaking to your customers’ primary desires and motivations, brand archetypes speak to the impetuses that drive customer engagement and purchasing behavior.
Unlocking the power of brand archetypes starts with understanding your brand at the deepest level. Who does your brand serve? What are its motivations? Why does it exist? The same questions you ask when developing your brand compass.
By answering these fundamental questions, you’ll start to understand which archetype your brand most embodies.
Identifying your brand archetype is just the beginning, though. The idea is to use that archetype to bring your brand to life in its positioning, visual identity, verbal identity, and, ultimately brand experience.
Positioning includes the creation of important core messaging like your brand compass: your purpose, vision, mission, and values. Your brand archetype can be a valuable anchor point when developing this messaging. Is your brand visionary and imaginative like the Creator? Bold and courageous like the Hero? Or compassionate and service-oriented like the Caregiver?
The design of your logo and extended visual identity are prime opportunities to draw on inspiration from your brand archetype. Everything from brand colors to fonts to symbols can and should be heavily informed by your archetype’s characteristics. An Outlaw brand looks daring and provocative, while an Innocent brand is friendly and pure.
Your verbal identity comes to life in everything from your brand name to your tagline to your website and marketing copy. Drawing on the rich, inherent meaning of your brand archetype gives your brand an instantly recognizable narrative that is universal to the human experience. If your customers can relate to your brand on such a fundamental level, imagine what kind of lasting relationships you can build with them.
Your brand experience is where the rubber hits the road. Ensuring that customers instantly (if subconsciously) recognize your brand archetype when they experience your brand means that your brand is consistently executed across touchpoints. Harley Davidson, the classic Outlaw brand, has cultivated an unshakeable brand experience that exudes freedom and individuality.
Examples of Brand Archetypes
As we saw in the previous section, you can find examples of brand archetypes just about everywhere you look. The world’s biggest brands have powerful narratives built on readily recognizable archetypes.
Let’s take a closer look at four such brands and how they’ve used their brand archetype to create profound differentiation.
Apple / The Creator
Few brands embody the spirit of creation quite like Apple. Positioned squarely at the intersection of technology and design, the company creates beautiful products that are themselves purpose-built to create beautiful projects.
To own an Apple product is be imbued with the power of creation. Long the only choice for the creative class, Apple’s claim as the de facto brand for designers has yet to be challenged.
Google / The Sage
Need a recipe for tonight? Dying to know the lyrics to the latest pop song? Curious about the land speed of the world’s fastest animal? For any question you could possibly imagine, Google has an answer.
As a steward of information, Google has redefined everything from the yellow pages to maps to encyclopedias. It is the sage of all sages—an all-knowing oracle with the keys to seemingly the entire history of human knowledge.
Sure, technically, Google isn’t the one with the information, but could you answer any of the above questions without it? The Sage is a keeper of wisdom—a librarian of knowledge.
Nike / The Hero
An ambassador of courage and inspiration, the Hero archetype is a bold savior on a mission to change things for the better. Hero brands are often seen in sports and military pursuits—anywhere where big ambitions and superior performance are key.
From its namesake of a winged goddess to its swift logo to its famous tagline—”Just do it”—Nike is the quintessential Hero archetype. The brand is all about empowering its customers to be their best selves, to always reach higher, and to never settle for less than amazing.
SpaceX / The Explorer
The Explorer brand archetype speaks to our desire to explore and discover new things. Few brands embody this primordial urge quite like SpaceX. With its gaze fixed firmly on the stars, SpaceX taps into a fascination with space travel that only NASA and science fiction had mined before it.
The curiosity of outer space and the yearning to travel to other worlds are instinctual urges that the brand addresses not only with successful trips to orbit, but also with a compelling brand narrative born from its mission “to revolutionize space technology, with the ultimate goal of enabling people to live on other planets.”
Identifying and leveraging your brand’s archetype is the most powerful way to unlock its true potential. This is because archetypes represent a universal and enduring expression of meaning, behavior, and communication.
By understanding your brand’s archetype and building a brand that embodies it, you can create positioning, visual and verbal identity, and a customer experience that is uniquely resonant and difficult to forget.
Editor’s Note: This post was originally published in August 2016 and has been updated with additional insights.