What’s Your Brand’s Archetype?

A dozen choices that both Walt and Jung would Recognize

Last week my family and I visited Disney World. I knew my kids would feel the excitement and awe of the park, but I was surprised that I too got caught up in the nostalgia of Mickey and his friends. Every detail and experience was created to drive a specific emotion and feeling—magic.

Customers don’t buy experiences and products rationally. They are highly influenced by emotional stories connected with their choices. Throughout history, many of the same stories and characters appear in literature, religion, folklore, and mythology. These are the stories of the magician, the creator, the caregiver—stories that have been told around the campfire since the beginning of time.

Carl Jung developed an understanding of archetypes as universal, archaic patterns and images that he found appearing consistently from stories told around the world. More recently, archetypes have been applied to organizations and groups of people who are part of a culture and share a common purpose. Disney’s purpose is to bring happiness to its customers and employees through every detail, even the mundane. 

For years, we have used images and adjectives as part of our Brand Design d5 Process to define and differentiate our clients’ brands. It is helpful to visualize your brand as a picture since most of us think in images, not words. Images are emotional quick reads, and that’s why they are more powerful. They penetrate our decision-making center before a rational argument ever sets in.

But images alone can be too abstract. Adjectives help to reveal our client’s archetype. As Fritz Grutzner says in the journal of the Qualitative Research Consultants Association, “Archetypes prove to be very powerful tools to align a brand around a key emotional need in a way that both the client and the consumer can readily grasp. This approach has worked successfully for some of the largest consumer brands in the country as well as for small non-profits and even business-to-business companies.”

We give our clients a list of adjectives and ask them to choose those that best reflect their company’s brand. These choices reveal their archetype. Jung identified seven different archetypes, but Pearson and Mark expanded on his thinking to identify twelve specific archetypes and how they can be used in brand strategy. The twelve, which appear consistently in brand strategy literature, are: Saint, Explorer, Sage, Hero, Outlaw, Magician, Average Joe, Lover, Jester, Caregiver, Creator, and Ruler. Here are some well-known consumer brands that we might associate with each of these specific archetypes:

The Saint: Ivory

The Explorer: Starbucks

The Sage: Oprah

The Hero: Nike

The Outlaw: Apple

The Magician: Disney

The Average Joe: Target

The Lover: Godiva

The Jester: Ben & Jerry’s

The Caregiver: Campbell’s Soup

The Creator: Martha Stewart

The Ruler: American Express

For an established brand, the job is to discover and clarify its core archetypal story. Often, it goes back to why the company was founded in the first place.  Ask yourself, besides making money, why does your company exist? For new brands, the task is to identify an archetypal story and simply go with it. Doing so will be beneficial in establishing the underlying emotional basis and the guidelines for how the brand tells its story. Much of the value of archetype identification is internal. All employees become brand ambassadors and sing from the same songbook.

Make sure the brand story is authentic. Your external actions must align with your internal culture. As brand guru Marty Neumeier says, “If a brand looks like a duck, quacks like a duck, walks like a duck and swims like a duck—then it must be a duck. But if it swims like a dog, however, people start to wonder.”

According to Grutzner, iconic brands like Disney are fanatical about the consistency with which they tell their own story, but they keep it relevant by retelling it over and over again in fresh, magical ways.