How brand archetypes provide a framework for adding meaning to your brand


Branding is not simply working out which colour your logo should be or what font you need to use. It's much bigger and deeper than that. In this post we look at the methodology of archetypal branding to show how brand archetypes provide a framework for adding meaning to a brand.

Brands as people

Before we get onto what exactly a “brand archetype” is it might be worth giving some context. As humans we tend to “anthropomorphize” or “personify” things and objects. This is the case with brands. In other words we think of these things as other humans. As having a personality.

Psychology Today tells us that: “Research reveals that consumers perceive the same type of personality characteristics in brands as they do in other people. And just like with people, they are attracted more to some personality types than others – attractions which are emotion based, not rational. Brand personality is communicated by marketers through packaging, visual imagery, and the types of words used to describe the brand.”

So how do we add a personality to a brand which is believable - and even more importantly in the modern world, is authentic. One way is to use ‘archetypal branding’.

Carl Jung and archetypes

Around the year 1919, the psychologist Carl Jung documented the idea of ‘archetypes’. Archetypes are feelings, fantasies and visions that reflect typical human characters. Their origins go back hundreds of years to the classical era. The Greek root of the word “archetype” means “first-moulded”. Jung described them as: “Forms or images of a collective nature which occur practically all over the earth as consistency of myths and at the same time as individual products of the conscious origin”. In more modern times archetypes have begun to be used in advertising and marketing. One famous advertising strategist, Jon Howard-Spink, has defined an archetype as; “a universally familiar character or situation that transcends time, place, culture, genre and age. It represents an eternal truth”.

Jung developed the premise that everyone has a particular ‘archetypal character’ that they can relate to in their life - or at least at points and times in their life. From Jung’s work 12 different character archetypes have been identified which span many different personalities. Depending on the type of person, what that person desires to do or the situation the person finds themselves in, archetypes are triggered and evoked. They are patterns of behaviour. These archetypes are a part of our human ‘mental architecture’ and are amplified in stories. All good stories have characters which embody these archetypes. It doesn’t matter if it’s a Hollywood blockbuster or an Indonesian hillside legend, you will come across the same types of characters. They transcend culture and demographics. One has only got to think about the enduring appeal and success of films such as Lord of the Rings, Star Wars, Harry Potter and other iconographic stories to realise the power of archetypes. Jung believed archetypes are part of our “collective” unconsciousness as human beings. They represent the drives, needs, fears and desires hard-wired into all of us. When we are driven and motivated to do a particular thing these archetypes are evoked and we embody them. The theories that Jung discovered were far reaching, influencing well known psychologists such as Freud and helping to define human psychology itself.

Archetypes and branding

In more recent years, the idea of archetypes has been used as a framework to add meaning to brands.

In their book “The Hero and the Outlaw” Margaret Mark and Carol S. Pearson showed how Jungian archetypes enabled companies to manage the meaning of branded products and services. They demonstrated how these archetypes connect with a number of scientifically defined customer motivations which resonate with each archetype. By understanding which archetype serves which motivation, a framework can be developed which helps to identify which brand archetype a business might be. This can then be used to ensure all communications are consistent and clear, communicating authentic meaning to an audience.

Projecting your purpose to your target audience well is one of the keys to developing a successful brand. Archetypes provide a way to do this. They represent your purpose in a form that everyone can recognise. Knowing your archetype means you can communicate on a deeper emotional level and your audience can understand what you stand for swiftly. You can tell a better story.

When going through a branding exercise, a marketing team would consider which archetype its brand is bringing out in its audience for the specific product or service being offered. Successful brands will then mirror this in the archetype they embody.

As a simple example imagine you sell a range of T-shirts which are aimed at teenagers. After doing your research you discover the reason why your audience is purchasing your t-shirts is because they fit with the lifestyle choice of teenagers to be rebellious and free of constraint. This would inform you that the rebel archetype is being evoked. This would then give you an archetype to embody as a brand.

Archetypal branding then is a key tool in the marketers tool-kit. In a world full of clutter and competing brands they allow for a story to be told which resonates with an audience. Using principles of psychology this framework allows for brands to connect, communicate and build relationships with customers. When used properly archetypes enable brands to produce a story which people can join because they also believe this story. They help companies know how to communicate and build strategies around who they truly are - rather than simply what the competition in their marketplace might be doing.

It is not usual that a brand fits into one single archetype. Usually, after defining a core archetype, sub-archetypes (or “wing” archetypes”) are employed to balance and give structure to a brand’s personality.