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.”
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I love it– you keep me smiling on Mon mornings — thanks!
Jack Rohan says
Nice post, Tom.
Another great text on the subject of brands and archetypes is “The Hero and the Outlaw: Building Extraordinary Brands Through the Power of Archetypes” by Margaret Mark and Carol Pearson.
I’ve turned to this book many times over the years while developing compelling brands for everything from colleges/universities to web development companies. It’s a true gem.
Can’t wait to check out the resources you linked to. More for my ever-expanding library…
Ted Simon says
Another thoughtful cartoon and post, Tom. That innocent brand case is a great example of how “literal” and “logical” thinking can lead to questionable brand positioning and perceptions. Not sure I’d want a smoothie delivered by a tractor (I can taste the grit in my mouth as I think about it!).
Nice work, as usual. Thanks!
Janis wilson says
Readers might also like to have a look at my web pages http://www.archetypology.co.uk for some more info on archetype and brands
Fantastic blog post! We just presented to a group of non-profits on the importance of determining what your brand stands for and delivering on that promise in all ways. I love how this approach simplifies the brand personality selection process, and forces you to choose “what do you want to be when you grow up…”
Simon Rowell says
Nice post. I have always found archetypes to be a useful tool in order to help build a brand story and connect people with the brand. But it should be used as one of the tools, not the only tool.
Dan Kirby says
A great post, but I wondered about “The Helper” > as I haven’t seen this term used in other posts on brand archetypes?
Or is this the same as “Caregiver” ?
In my work with brand teams, I have found that many brands are unwittingly stuck in an archetype and often do not even recognize it. Knowledge of archetypes opens up brand teams to explore alternate ways of relating to consumers. I have taken a tongue in cheek look at the various in my post on the same topic: