From a young age, most of us are exposed to fairy tales, religious texts and key works of Literature at school. As adults we may go knocking on the doors of Myers Briggs, Insights Discovery or 16personalities.com to better understand our behaviours or preferences at work and beyond. These tools often elicit a ‘marmite’ response, but the point remains that character ‘types’ and behavioural frameworks are fairly embedded in our society, providing theories on how we consciously and subconsciously present ourselves to the world. Marketers anthropomorphise brands with ‘human’ traits and desires so that consumers connect more deeply with them; these behavioural frameworks take the form of brand archetypes. This blog defines what archetype theory is, asks whether it is a help or a hinderance in shaping strong brands, and whether archetypes have a place in strategy conversations today.
What is archetype theory?
The psychologist Carl Jung originated archetypal theory with his idea of a “collective unconscious” – namely that human thoughts and beliefs shared certain patterns in a second psychic system. Liddell explains this like a shared mental museum – innate and hereditary, Jung believed it transcends language, culture and time and that archetypes evolved to become “a kind of readiness to produce over and over again the same or similar mythical ideas”.
Jung developed thousands of archetypes that have since been refined into twelve commonalities. These ladder up to a suite of relatable human callings, from: belonging, to freedom, mastery, innovation, intimacy, safety and many more. In practical terms, brand archetypes appear within the strategy stage – often within a workshop – and are usually presented on a colour wheel with two axes – the first maps Extroversion (freedom-focused) vs Introversion (control-focused) and the second maps Assertion (me-focused) VS Affiliation (we-focused).
How is brand archetype different to brand personality?
Archetypes differ to brand personality which can change over time – brand personality shows up as behavioural traits, characteristics, attitudes and styles. A good example may be Spiderman and James Bond – both are born from the ‘Hero’ archetype, but clearly have distinctive personalities and styles. As brands mature, they may evolve these personalities in order to stay authentic.
Do brand archetypes still cut the mustard, today?
As widely adopted concepts, archetypes are easy to grasp. They can help to steer challenging stakeholder discussions in the quest to define brand positioning, purpose and vision. Because they’re used broadly, a wealth of existing brand examples can help stakeholders to visualise the implications of their choices. And in addition to stakeholder interviews and desk research, they can help strategists to ascertain what brands are not, in order to confidently articulate what they are or could be.
According to a recent article shared by The Drum, consistency is the key to successful brands. Cole, Ballard and Battacherjee explain that archetypes act like a lighthouse for brands, seeking to provide a consistent standpoint that enables consumers to relate to them. This is crucial because memorability, relevance and distinction are key to drive sales. Several brand attributes must work together to achieve this. A brand’s promise must be clear with every interaction shaping a business’ thinking, behaviours, products, services and brand touchpoints.
A brand’s positioning should also be clear with one, central idea communicated through strategy and activation. Whilst brand positioning can be developed without the use of archetypes, we feel brand archetypes add value because they help to map the spaces the brand could play in, acting as an anchor for unique positioning ideas. When done well, archetypes not only show up in a brand’s ‘look and feel’ and ‘tone of voice’ but also the Marketing P’s – namely product, price, place, promotion, but perhaps also people and process. Here they can add value beyond the customer experience to the employee experience, too.
In short, the benefits of brand archetypes are:
- Memorability and consistency for consumers
- Universal understanding – (easy to grasp)
- Engaging workshop activity
- A framework for future brand activity
Brand archetypes don’t provide a golden answer as a standalone solution. But, they do act as the bridge from the intellectual to the practical. They are a solid starting point for establishing necessary action, moving brands on from what they are to how they do things. The ‘how’ often requires creative thinking from agencies to deliver a holistic recommendation across all brand touchpoints in compelling and unique ways.
And the drawbacks of brand archetypes are:
- Oversimplication (can be viewed as reductive or lacking nuance)
- Bias – (must be applied to the holistic brand, not simply individual preference)
- Intellectual not practical application (requires strategic recommendations)
- Requires perceptive awareness / honesty (and sometimes a dose of bravery)
Interested in finding out more?
Overall, brand archetypes still have a place in strategy conversations today, providing they’re used to develop single-minded positioning ideas that achieve cut-through against the broader competitor set. But it takes a lot of reading and research to be able to talk about them with conviction, to unearth the value of each positioning and avoid confusing key elements. If you’re interested in reading more into Brand Archetypes, we recommend ‘The Hero and The Outlaw’ by Mark and Pearson. But, if a 400-page read is a bit of a stretch, perhaps a chat and a coffee to pick our brains might be your best call…
Let saintnicks take your brand further. Get in touch, today.