Add Meaning With Brand Archetypes

Updated: Aug 27, 2019


How can I get the work my team produces to communicate better? How do you add more meaning to your creative work? How can you connect on a deep emotional level with people to prompt them to take action? These have been the key questions I've focused on in my 16 years in the creative industries. In this post, I'm going to share one of the most powerful tools I've come across.

Brand archetypes provide a framework for adding meaning to a brand. I've found them to be one of the most powerful tools in the box for uniting teams and aligning them around an emotional, authentic brand strategy. If you are not using them, you need to!


Rembrandt - Man in Armour - Typical "Hero" archetype image

What are archetypes?

Psychology has been exploring the idea of archetypes for many years since the days of Carl Jung (Read an overview here). In essence they are recognisable patterns of human behaviour which stem from deep within our emotions. They are amplified in the characters we find in stories. For example we can immediately connect on a deep human level with the "Jester" (who is all about enjoyment and fun), the "Sage" (wisdom and intelligence), the "sovereign" (Rulership and control) etc. etc. Coming across a particular type of character we attach unspoken meaning to them which the story writers do not necessarily need to convey.

Archetypes are cross cultural, found all over the globe and in all time periods of human history. They are universal, built into our "collective unconscious" human instincts.

Just as the need and principles of storytelling are universal so are the archetypal characters who perform in them. Stories and the typical characters found in them, help us make sense of the world around us. They create meaning. Therefore harnessing the typical characters we come across in stories helps us to better appreciate how we can communicate a brands meaning. By embodying an archetypal character we can communicate quicker and on a deeper level with our audiences.

Branding is the discipline of managing meaning. As we create emotional meaning in our minds through stories it follows that character archetypes are an important theory for anyone involved in a brand to get to grips with.

Archetypes and branding

The idea of archetypes has been used as a framework to add meaning to brands. In their amazing book “The Hero and the Outlaw: Building Extraordinary Brands Through the Power of Archetypes”, (McGraw-Hill, 2001) 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 (mastery, independence, belonging and stability) 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.

Whenever I take a leadership team through a branding exercise, I would present these ideas to them and ask them to consider which archetype their brand embodies. My most successful projects have been with teams who then embrace their true archetype and then amplify it in all that they do.

A brief example

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. Digging deeper you might discover that this was the real reason for the original founder starting up the company. It might also be the reason for people joining the team. Freedom of expression. The chance to change what is wrong with the world one T-shirt at a time. This "rebel" storyline 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.

The Twelve Archetypes

In Mark and Pearson’s model there are twelve archetypes - They are listed below and if you want to dive deeper select one to see other blog posts I've written on them:


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.

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

Over the coming weeks I will be outlining each of the twelve archetypes in more detail. I hope to give examples of each one in action and show what a fantastic concept for adding emotional and creative meaning this framework is.


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