I learned the power of archetypes from Joseph Campbell’s classic interview with Bill Moyers. The explore the universal themes, characters, and stories that repeat throughout history, appearing in every form of human expression from the Bible to Star Wars. These archetypes repeat because they resonate deeply with human consciousness.
I first saw Joseph Campbell’s work applied to brands at General Mills, when the Wheaties team worked hard to understand and unlock “The Hero” archetype. I then learned that TBWA/Chiat used the archetypes as part of their exploratory work with brands.
Not surprisingly, some of the most meaningful brands have tapped universal archetypes. These brands stand for something powerful to the consumers who buy them.
- Nike –> The Hero
- Harley Davidson –> The Outlaw
- Pampers –> The Helper
- Virgin –> The Jester
- Ben & Jerry’s –> The Innocent
- Patagonia –> The Adventurer
- Charles Schwab –> The Sage
- And so on
Marketers spend a lot of time drafting brand pyramids, positioning statements, and messaging. Most of these are wordsmithing exercises. What can be more powerful is to understand your brand archetype. Mapping your brand to an archetype forces you to choose. The best brands narrow to one or two archetypes. Without narrowing, a brand is trying to be all things to all people. It ends up standing for nothing. When brands stand for nothing, the only way it can compete is on price.
Last week, I heard Dan Germain give a talk about innocent (the UK smoothie business where he is Head of Creative). Not surprisingly, innocent represents “The Innocent” archetype, with it’s fresh-eyed approach to the beverage market. As part of the brand history, Dan shared that the brand was first called “Fast Tractor”, not “innocent”. They created a smoothie with a short time from field to bottle, and “Fast Tractor” reinforced that positioning. “Fast Tractor” may fit a positioning statement, but does it stand for something greater?
Later on, they migrated to “innocent”, which tapped a universal archetype. The brand emerged with a similar playbook as Ben & Jerry’s, and consumers instantly knew what it meant.
All brands have the potential to tap and leverage a universal archetype. I found some useful guidance from Olivier’s Blanchard in a post called “Archetypes and Brands“. He includes this exerpt from a piece from Jon Howard-Spink called “Using Archetypes to Build Stronger Brands.”
“I find it more exciting to think of myself as the author of eternal brand stories than as someone who writes strategy documents and brand pyramids.”