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Archetype Fueled Branding 101: the Basics

Updated on October 17, 2015

Character Archetypes

Find out more about how tap into the power of archetypal forms to build or strengthen your brand.

The Innocent

The Warrior

The Caregiver

The Seeker

The Lover

The Destroyer

The Creator

The Ruler

The Magician

The Sage

The Jester

Archetypes are real

Archetypes are real as any other type of repeating pattern that anyone can observe. Archetypes are present everywhere -- commercials, movies, novels -- and those who use them effectively command vast audiences. Still, even though we are up to our eyeballs in archetypal imagery, in scientific circles the word "archetype" triggers snorts.

The reason for the academic knee jerk reaction against archetypal theory is that when Carl Jung first developed the idea that patterns appear in all human cultures, he explained his findings by theorizing that all of humanity is connected to a universal information bank that he called the Universal Mind. Because of the fact that he instantly jumped to a metaphysical conclusion to explain the patterns that he uncovered, Jung was laughed at by other academics. Even Jung's mentor, Sigmund Freud, distanced himself from his pupil. Since Jung's time, New Age hucksters have used (and abused) Jung's theories. As a result, Jungian psychology has largely been lumped together with astrology, ufology, and other fields that are labeled as "junk science."

The good news is that we don't have to worry about any of those problems. Anyone seeking to communicate with the public effectively doesn't need to worry about their academic reputation or wonder if the Universal Mind exists or not. It's perfectly obvious that all human stories follow particular patterns. Moreover, anyone can tap into these patterns and use them to relate to others. The most famous corporations, celebrities and politicians have developed highly effective personal brands. The most successful among them have become the masters at using a set of particular character archetypes.

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An example of archetypes manifesting in a real life situation

The information that we're dealing with here is much bigger than the world of marketing. Archetypes are deeper than that-- they explain and define the way we see the world. Archetypes are the building blocks that form the powerful ideas and stories that have been shaping and motivating human behavior for thousands of years. They also describe how we relate to and interact with each other. Archetypes represent real personality types and embody actual problem solving strategies.

Any group of people that comes together to accomplish some task needs at least a few of the twelve character archetypes to manifest. The particular archetypes that come to the forefront vary depending on the situation as well as on the abilities and personalities of the individuals involved. Let's look at a real life situation where archetypes are likely to emerge.

Suppose that you and your friends agree to try to form a team and compete in an amateur basketball league. Chances are, someone in the group has had some type of basketball experience. Maybe this person was the star player in high school, or (best case scenario) maybe he had a basketball scholarship in college. Whatever the situation is, whoever has the most experience is likely to step into the role of the Ruler or the Sage.

The first time the group comes together to practice, everyone will likely lean on the wisdom and guidance of the person who has been there and done that. In this scenario, the one with the most experience will channel either the Ruler or Sage archetypes and influence the group in key ways. If the way this person acts fits in with how we expect him to act given our intuitive understanding of the archetypes, the players are more likely to listen.

As the team continues to solidify, other members of the team may emerge to play key archetypal roles that match up with their abilities. An Orphan "average joe" type of player might step up to play the less flashy role of racking up rebounds and playing good defense. During a stressful, important game the funniest member of the team might crack a joke and step into the role of the Jester. A Caretaker type of person might emerge to take care of the important details: keeping track of supplies, checking that all dues are paid, ensuring that everyone is able to get a parking spot, and so on.

Of course, archetypal roles are fluid and can change over time. If he is the best player, the most experienced team member who was a Sage / Ruler in the beginning might become more of a Warrior as time goes on. (The Warrior is usually the "Michael Jordan" of the team that everyone relies on to make brilliant plays.) Someone else (maybe the smartest person on the team) might take over as Sage / Ruler as time goes on.

Archetypes emerge naturally in sports because athletic teams are the perfect social situation where people come together for a common purpose. Challenging conflicts and struggles are opportunities for individuals to explore their talents and abilities.

The paradox of being too comfortable

Part of the reason why people feel miserable in office environments where almost nothing exciting or challenging ever happens (in spite of the fact that everyone there may be making plenty of money) is that individuals need to be challenged to discover their latent skills and abilities. We need to feel that we are part of an unfolding story. If nothing is happening, we begin to feel restless.

Technology and our increasingly comfortable society make our lives easier, but the benefits of modern life also trap us in some ways. A comfortable life might prevent a person from unlocking his or her talents. Rationally, everything may be going smoothly in our lives-- the bills are being paid and everything is alright. But at the same time, we know that something is missing.

One unfortunate side-effect of our increasingly civilized and domesticated modern society is that individuals who could become the next great inventor or leader are being shoved into cubicles. When these people get old, they feel that they missed out on life-- even though they have created an otherwise happy, tranquil life for themselves and their family members.

Don't categorize me!

Don't confuse your preferred set of archetypes with your self-identity. Shakespeare once wrote that "all the world's a stage." Archetypes aren't about who you are, they're about how you act.

Nobody is locked into any particular archetype. Think of archetypes as clothing. A t-shirt and jeans might suit most people, but it doesn't work for everyone. Also a t-shirt isn't appropriate for some occasions, like formal events and so on.

Life experiences force people to discover their ability to step into different roles, and different situations trigger different archetypes to come to light. Someone who is a Sage in one situation might become a Caregiver in some other scenario. Obviously, a person with a great sense of humor is going to be more inclined to step into the Jester's shoes but just about anyone is capable of telling a joke. The same principle applies when it comes to the other archetypes. Just about anyone can step into any of the archetypes, but most people gravitate toward a certain set of archetypes because those are the ones that they feel comfortable with.

The point here is that you shouldn't get too attached to your favorite archetypes. Just because you needed to present yourself in one particular way in one given situation doesn't mean that you are locked into that particular archetype forever. Situations change. In today's world the idea that "the only constant is change" is particularly apt.

Knowing which archetypal roles you are best at playing will help you know what your strengths and weaknesses are, but in your personal life it's good to try to be well rounded. Don't limit yourself to any set of particular archetypes.

If you want to find out what your dominant archetypes are at this moment in time, go ahead and take CAPT's PMAI Archetype Assessment. It's not a bad indicator of what your preferences are and it might help you define your personal brand.

Taking the test isn't mandatory if you want to learn how to improve your personal brand, but it might shed some light on what your preferences are. As you read about the different archetypes below, you'll figure out which ones you feel most comfortable with.

I personally feel that getting too comfortable with your favorite archetypes is a mistake. If you want to be a well-rounded person, seek out situations that force you to learn how to play different archetypal characters. You never know what life will throw at you, so having experience at playing all of the character types might come in handy.

With all of that being said...

When you're constructing a personal brand, it's best to follow the example of the professional brand experts who construct brands for multi-million dollar companies and specialize in one or two archetypal roles. Limiting your public persona in this way will help make it easier for anyone who doesn't know you to understand you. To avoid confusion, it's a wise idea to formulate a personal brand that's based on an archetype that you're comfortable with playing, and stick to it for a long period of time and develop it completely before you try to change your personal brand.

The phrase "Burn Baby Burn" is written on his underwear.
The phrase "Burn Baby Burn" is written on his underwear. | Source

I hate commercials

As you read through these articles, you might notice a few sarcastic comments thrown in here and there. I throw in those little jabs because I actually hate commercials.

Before I started researching archetypes and branding techniques I believed that all commercials were stupid, loud and annoying. I stubbornly refused to watch them or believe that anything could be learned from them.

The inherent illogical aspect of advertisements really used to bother me-- until I began to understand how these things work. Now, I can better appreciate the particular kind of genius involved in putting an effective advertisement together. Hopefully by the time you are done reading this, you'll be able to use the archetypes to improve your own life and make your own personal brand more powerful and effective.

Commercials wear on everyone's nerves, but one thing almost everyone loves is a good story. Ads that contain compelling archetypes are less annoying than your average plain old loud-and-obnoxious commercial from the local car dealership. If you're promoting yourself, you can avoid coming across as annoying if you hit the right archetypal buttons.

To me, the twelve archetypes are more than just an interesting concept. I use the power of archetypes to pay the bills. As a social media manager and freelance content writer, I work with archetypes for a living. I help people present themselves online, usually for the purpose of opening a business. But I've also written ads for people who were searching for a roommate, and I've helped people write profiles for various online dating services. I also help other content writers who need help with the promotional aspect of presenting themselves as an expert in a particular area of knowledge.

Getting familiar with the archetypes has also helped me grow and become a well-rounded person. Once you understand all of the archetypes you will be able to use them to achieve your goals, and you just might broaden your horizons in the process. Understanding the twelve character archetypes will enable you to appreciate multiple perspectives on life.

Ads are getting smarter

Yes, commercials can be dumb. And loud. And distracting. They can interrupt the show that you were in the middle of watching. Here's the thing, though: ads are actually getting smarter and more compelling.

With a few exceptions, early commercials and ads were kind of like signs on the side of the road. They communicated the name of a brand, but most ads didn't tell much of a story. If ads did communicate a story, it was a boring story. It wasn't until the late 20th century that advertisers finally caught on to the need to use storytelling techniques in their promotional strategies. Modern branding techniques have blurred the line between art and advertising.

Many promotions from the 80s and 90s are cheesy and not very compelling compared to today's commercials and ads. Modern brand architects have mastered the art of storytelling. There are still plenty of corny or annoying commercials, but the stories communicated by the most compelling modern brands are so effective and believable that today, people (especially young people) define themselves by buying certain brands-- and avoiding others.

In the past, people showed off their status and engaged in conspicuous consumption by purchasing high quality products. Over the years, the emphasis has shifted away from the quality of the actual thing being sold. Today the success of a brand depends on a company's ability to sell a storyline.

Modern brands and the commercials that convey their stories are as compelling as summer blockbusters.

Let's look at this ad from Diesel Jeans and see what is really going on here. In the ad, we see an image of a guy burning what seems to be all of his personal possessions. He's not even wearing any jeans in the advertisement-- only underwear. A typical reaction to it goes something like this: "Um, okay."

You might wonder: what does this ad have to do with the quality of Diesel jeans?

Nothing.

On the surface, at least. This apparently nonsensical ad from Diesel is actually doing something very clever: it's channeling the charismatic Jester archetype. The commercial conveys the message that people who wear Diesel jeans like to do lots of wild and weird stuff because they just don't care about anything. The ability to do whatever you want regardless of what other people think is a quality that many people (especially young people) aspire to cultivate. Marketing strategies are highly effective when they create the impression that anyone can become a carefree, "footloose and fancy free" type of person (in other words, a hipster) simply by wearing a particular brand of jeans.

Most ads contain an average of two archetypes. Combining a couple archetypes inside of a brand can make it more interesting. A key part of this ad that makes it compelling is its destructive imagery. Fire is just as important in this ad as "being stupid" is. The Jester seems to be the main archetype, but there's also a hint of the Destroyer going on here as well.

The image implies a story. Maybe the guy in the ad is burning all of his possessions to free himself because he's felt a call to adventure. It could also be that this kid is on his way to becoming a new person in some way. Maybe he's moving to South America to commune with nature or something. Maybe he's kicking a drug habit. He could be just fooling around, but maybe he's trying to start a riot. The point is that the ad works on multiple levels. I almost hate to admit it, but this ad is actually pretty artistic when you stop to think about it. It would make sense to see an image like this in a museum.

The ad is compelling mainly because it (like all compelling forms of art) pushes our archetypal buttons.

Remember when there was a counter-culture?

Part of the reason why ads have improved is due to the fact that the advertising world has increasingly been able to recruit young, rebellious artistic talent.

In previous decades young brilliance and subversive energy might have been expressed in the form of some type of counter-culture. Today all the cool people go get corporate jobs, and society has suffered for it.

People still dress in ways the reflect the counter-cultures of the past but there is nothing new and fresh. Everything is retro, recycled and hipster-ized.

The upshot here is that at least commercials have gotten a lot more compelling. How far the U.S. is ahead n this area (for better or for worse) is evident when you compare commercials that are made in the U.S. to commercials from other countries.

A short film by Doug Nichol is a really interesting look at the story of an American advertising exec in Shanghai. China is just now figuring out how commercials and branding work. Interestingly the Chinese seem to be obsessed with the Innocent archetype, in the same way that Americans were back in the 50s.

Sunshine is available for free. Check out on vimeo here.

Commercials are turning the world into an insane asylum

Professional marketing teams can make otherwise intelligent people believe the weirdest things.

You want to slam dunk a basketball like a hero? Well, first you're going to need a pair of Air Jordans. If you want to be invited to sexy parties, then you're going to need to buy some Absolut vodka. If you want to be a big shot, then you're going to have to buy a Mercedes. These are stories that are told over and over again until they become real. That's why advertising is so expensive-- it works, and everyone wants to imprint as many eyeballs as they can with archetypal images.

Corporations have spent big money on making us feel certain ways about their products. The idea is to build the connection until the product itself is associated with an archetype. This is how a normal pair of shoes becomes a magical talisman that will help you jump higher.

The problem is that none of the talismans actually work. Anyone can buy a pair of Jordans, but not everyone can dunk a basketball. Part of the reason why this kind of trickery is effective is because on some level, we never grow up.

Think about your favorite childhood hero. The larger-than-life pop cultural icon that you looked up to the most when you were growing up. Think of the overwhelming excitement you would have felt if you had met this person when you were young.

When we grow up and the rational part of our brain catches up with the emotional side, we realize that our heroes aren't gods-- they're just regular people who are good at what they do. Part of the excitement and magic fades away, but some of it remains. Even as adults, if we are presented with an item associated with our childhood hero (a football with an authentic Dan Marino signature, Michael Jackson's famous shiny glove, Jimi Hendrix's white Fender guitar, whatever) it's hard to not feel at least a little bit of childish excitement.

That's the power of archetypes. Archetypes are the shortcut around the rational part of human nature. They affect us directly and emotionally. Even though we want to believe that adults are immune to this type of manipulation, the truth is that archetypes work on adults just as well as they work on children.

Some people say "don't hate the player, hate the game." Personally, I disagree. I think it's better to learn how to play the game. If you hate the game, then you'll never learn how to play it.

If you understand how archetypes work you can learn how to construct a powerful, effective personal brand. You can then use your personal brand to, well, do whatever you want. Make friends. Influence people. Take over the world.

The best thing is that the key to unlocking archetypes is literally right in front of our eyes. Corporations pay handsome sums of money to highly intelligent people in order to create the most compelling ad possible. If you learn how to think about the art of advertising, you can learn from intelligent people without having to actually pay them any money.

Let's take a look at the most successful commercials to find out how they have been convincing everyone to buy their stuff. Once we break down their strategy and understand how they operate, we can then figure out how to use the power of archetypes.

You too can follow the example of the pros and use the twelve character archetypes to invent your own unique archetypal brand.

If you're unfamiliar with the twelve character archetypes, check out this overview first: Rulers, Sages and Jesters: the Twelve Character Archetypes.

The 12 archetypes

  • Keeping It Real With the Orphan - Use the highly attractive idea that we are all created equal to give your brand some Orphan-esque egalitarian appeal.
  • Exploring New Worlds With the Seeker - If you are in the business of helping others experience new things or travel to exotic locations, spice up your brand with some Seeker zaniness.
  • Tangoing With the Lover - Reveal hidden truths or work sexuality into your brand to harness the magnetic power of the Lover.
  • Channelling the Magician - Use the Magician archetype to fascinate an enthralled audience-- or make them reconsider everything they think they know.
  • Partying With the Jester - Take the edge off of your brand and create a fun atmosphere by clowning it up a little with the Jester archetype.

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    • phdast7 profile image

      Theresa Ast 4 years ago from Atlanta, Georgia

      Mercury - This is an extraordinarily interesting and well-written essay. Great topic, excellent development, and written in quality, but not stuffy/academic language. You write exceedingly well, which I know is essential to your profession, but as a "non-stuffy" academic who also writes for a living, I just wanted to let you know, that I recognize the quality of what you do. Not to be negative, but a lot of stuff on HP is rather average (probably including some of my stuff), so it is a distinct pleasure to read really well-written material. Sharing.

      P.S. I have been fascinated by archetypes for many years. My major was European History, but my minor was Literature. There are many ways in which they influence us. I wish more people understood them. I love your points about advertising. In general I hate commercials, but every now and then one comes along, that is so well done and strikes all the right chords, that it is akin to a work of art or music.

    • mercuryservices profile image
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      Alex Munkachy 4 years ago from Honolulu, Hawaii

      Thank you so much for the motivation phdast7, that really made me feel good this morning! It's very encouraging to know that a professor finds my writing to be interesting.

    • Natashalh profile image

      Natasha 4 years ago from Hawaii

      I agree that ads are getting smarter! There has been a distinct evolution in advertising over the years. I usually avoid most of it by not even owning a television, though. Okay, avoid some of it by not having a tv!

    • mercuryservices profile image
      Author

      Alex Munkachy 4 years ago from Honolulu, Hawaii

      Indeed they are Natashalh.

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      julhas 4 years ago

      so nice tips

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