You may have heard the idea that corporations are people, at least when it comes to certain legal rights. Of course, we know better. Companies are just companies—right? Well, yes and no. Even though companies aren’t technically people, providing brands with an identity is key when developing a successful marketing strategy.
Do you feel like you know Coca-Cola? How about Disney? We have a deep sense of familiarity with these companies because they rely heavily on their personas, and, more specifically, their brand archetypes.
What Are Brand Archetypes?
Brand archetypes are personas that companies lean into when developing a brand voice, marketing strategy, and advertisement campaign. Without brand archetypes, companies could come across as cold, money-driven, or—you know—inhuman. These archetypes give consumers a personality to connect with emotionally.
Modern brand archetypes developed from the idea that humans are inherently archetypal, a theory first put forward by renowned psychologist Carl Jung. According to Jung, certain personality traits are built into our psyche, affecting how we approach ideas and how others approach us.
When you consider this idea, it’s easy to see how integral brand archetypes are to companies’ marketing, branding, and processes in general.
The 12 Brand Archetypes
Inspired by Jung, the twelve brand archetypes are:
- The Innocent
- The Everyperson
- The Hero
- The Outlaw/The Rebel
- The Explorer
- The Creator
- The Ruler
- The Magician
- The Lover
- The Caregiver
- The Jester
- The Sage
Most of us have seen a Coke ad right before a movie. Whether the ad features friends settling into their movie theater seats or polar bears cracking open an ice-cold soft drink, these advertisements nurture the idea of friendship and innocence, and the Innocent archetype is the reason why.
If your brand inspires hope and happiness, the Innocent archetype could be right for you. As we mentioned above, brands that embrace this archetype play into the idea of purity or “feeling like a kid again.”
Downsides: If you want to use the Innocent archetype in your own marketing, make sure it fits your audience. For example, if you’re targeting a thrill-seeking demographic, you don’t want your branding to come across as naive or bland.
Take a look at this video from Coca-Cola, where the main goal is to “spread happiness.”
Since the video uses candid footage, the production value isn’t particularly high. Even so, the Innocent archetype comes through strong.
The Everyperson archetype is meant to be a persona everyone can relate to, and values a sense of belonging. Think about companies virtually everyone uses, like eBay or IKEA. These brands are extremely approachable and widely liked, which is an intentional marketing tactic.
Downsides: If your company is the only one of its kind, the Everyperson might not be for you. This branding is great for highly usable products, but it could be a bad fit for a niche company.
See the Everyperson archetype in action in this video from IKEA.
Everyone loves a deal, and this commercial homes in on that idea. The main character is especially relatable, making the commercial an Everyperson success.
The Hero archetype is saving us—at least, that’s what companies with this branding want us to believe. Consider a company like Duracell that aims to energize the world, or a brand like Nike that thrives on the idea of inspiring people to just do their goals. When you watch a Hero ad, you should leave feeling emboldened or impressed.
Downsides: While the Hero archetype can be extremely successful, inspiring people can be a lofty goal without the proper resources. Saving the world can easily come off as cliche, so don’t embrace this archetype if it might feel contrived.
Watch Nike’s “Dream With Us” commercial embody the Hero archetype.
Nike’s not afraid of lofty goals, and you can see that in the video above. In this ad, Nike seeks to empower women everywhere to dream big and achieve those dreams.
We’ve talked about the archetypes that have mass appeal; now let’s talk about one that caters to a more niche audience. The Rebel or Outlaw archetype bucks against the status quo, challenging what’s accepted and making room for the disenfranchised.
Think about brands like Harley-Davidson or MTV. These brands scare parents, live dangerously, and enjoy something different.
Downsides: Whenever you’re catering to the Rebel audience, there’s a chance for hyper-niche groups to seek out your company and build on your existing brand image, like when an unassuming anime forum birthed a hacker collective and political sub-parties. This kind of situation creates room for polarization within your consumer-base, so consider this when you’re branding.
For this one, we’re going a little old-school. Check out this MTV ad from 30+ years ago:
At the time of its release, this ad catered to a specific group of people: Rock lovers. With singers like David Bowie and Billy Idol, this ad did (and continues to do) a great job of expressing the Rebel archetype.
The Explorer archetype is another model that takes risks. This branding is perfect for organizations centered around camping, athletics, and even science. Companies like Jeep or Lonely Planet fully embrace the idea of taking a journey and seeing what’s out there—regardless of barriers or paths less travelled.
Downsides: With Millennials traveling in droves (20% of all international travelers are Millennials), this branding seems like it could have mass appeal—however, it’s important to consider that the more popular something is, the more saturated the marketing could become. If you’re offering an “Explorer-based” product, consider how you can slightly alter your marketing to differentiate your brand.
Take a look at how Jeep combines the Explorer archetype with its summer-based, Jeremy Renner campaign. (Yes, really.)
While this ad incorporates celebrity appeal, the Explorer archetype is still the main ingredient, encouraging viewers to live summer to the fullest by traveling and, of course, exploring.
The Creator archetype embodies the creative spirit: A love for inventing, imagining, and self-expression. Naturally, this is a popular archetype for children’s brands like Lego and Crayola. Instead of promoting their products, companies like these market the idea that anything is possible with the right tools.
Downsides: Depending on your demographic, imagination and creativity may not interest your audience. Additionally, if your product or service is meant to simplify the lives of your users, the Creator archetype may not be a good fit.
Watch this Crayola ad to see the Creator archetype firsthand.
This commercial hits several aspects of creation. Not only are the kids in the commercial coloring, but one of the kids even gets to invent her own Crayola products. Just like the archetype suggests, Crayola is offering unlimited creative opportunities.
The Ruler archetype aims to be authoritative and classy. Brands like Rolex, Mercedes-Benz, and IBM are all leaders in their industry, providing stability and standards for their consumers. This branding is excellent for companies looking to establish themselves as high-end or top-quality.
Downsides: What’s one reason the brands we listed above are so successful at Ruler marketing? They are all fairly upper class—and therefore have upper class budgets. If you’re trying to pick the perfect brand archetype for your scrappy startup, “the Ruler” may not be ideal. Remember, your product, design, and reputation have to be top-tier to comfortably adhere to this branding.
Notice how the Rolex ad below efficiently embraces the Ruler brand archetype.
While this commercial doesn’t feature any characters or voice-over, it does feature the high standards Rolex has to offer. After all, Rolex is trying to be the “ruler” of the watch industry.
The Magician archetype embraces the idea of—you guessed it—spreading magic. Perhaps the most successful brands that embody this archetype are Disney and Apple. Disney itself is a marketing empire built on the ubiquitous “Disney magic,” which infiltrates their movies, shows, and theme parks. Apple has a slightly more technical approach, looking to transform the world through their product.
Downsides: Because this archetype encourages people to transform their lives (by taking a Disney cruise or buying an iPhone, for example), your company may be in the position of needing to innovate constantly to really embrace this branding.
Consider how Disney uses the Magician brand archetype in the ad below.
This commercial uses a unique blend of animation and live-action footage to drive the magic home.
The Lover archetype uses sensations and intimate moments as marketing building blocks. Companies like Dove chocolates and Victoria’s Secret effectively utilize the Lover branding to increase customer familiarity. Companies that use this archetype encourage people to indulge and embrace their more romantic desires.
Downsides: Unfortunately, this branding could prove difficult for most brands. While the Lover archetype is perfect for guilty pleasures, it would probably be a poor fit for necessity products or practical services.
Chances are, you’ve seen more romantic versions of this archetype, but see how Dove branches out with this documentary-style video:
This ad still keeps with Dove’s “Choose pleasure” slogan, but it adds a little something extra: Choosing pleasure with a purpose. This is a unique and fresh way to make the Lover brand archetype more approachable and practical.
The Caregiver archetype uses compassion to brand its products and services. Caregiver companies nurture customers, providing honest and simple solutions to life’s problems. Johnson & Johnson and Emma Email Marketing are examples of companies with a compassionate and helpful voice.
Downsides: This archetype works wonders for many companies, but brands that want to be cool or edgy may not find comfort within the Caregiver archetype. The nurturing aspect reads as safe, which could clash with brands looking to live dangerously.
Just look how Johnson & Johnson embraces the Caregiver brand archetype in the video below.
This commercial is spot-on with the Caregiver voice, noting how J&J improved its products to take better care of consumers and their loved ones.
If you’ve ever seen an intentionally goofy ad for a product, it’s possible that the company was focusing on the Jester archetype. Some Jester examples are Ben & Jerry’s and Old Spice. As you can probably tell from these two brands, this archetype is happy and light-hearted. The Jester archetype promotes humor and helps companies embrace their sillier sides.
Downsides: As we all know, humor is subjective. What’s funny to some may feel insensitive or tryhard to others. If you embrace the Jester archetype, make sure your company is extremely thoughtful in its marketing.
When it comes to the Jester brand archetype, it doesn’t get much wackier than this Old Spice campaign, “A Breath of Fresh Hair.”
The ad above goes for the silly in a way that Old Spice has truly perfected over the years. While Jester brands should be cautious with their humor, this video shows that they can also take risks.
If movies have taught us anything, it’s that we all need a wise, learned elder to guide us through life. In the advertising world, this is embodied by the Sage archetype. Companies that use this branding typically push for holistic knowledge and understanding. You might not be surprised to know Google and PBS are two Sage brands who really do it right.
Downsides: No company wants to take itself too seriously, and this is a potential problem with Sage brands. Keep this in mind as you develop your marketing.
Google’s commercial for Google Duo uses a voice of wisdom (literally): Maya Angelou reading her poem, “Love Liberates.”
This video perfectly encapsulates the Sage brand archetype; not only does it have a serious, thoughtful tone, but it also preaches a message of love and connection via knowledge and technology. Additionally, Google repurposed this footage of the late Maya Angelou—a clever marketing choice.
Whether you’re refreshing a long-standing company or just getting started on your new startup’s style, there are a number of brand archetypes to choose from. Each archetype has its own unique persona, as well as unique downsides.
Consider your brand mission: What personality would your brand have if it were a person? How do you want your company to be perceived by others? What do your products say about your business? These are all questions to consider as you build out your brand archetype and future marketing campaigns.
But don’t stop there—make sure your branding goes beyond video, so every interaction is like reconnecting with a friend. Check out five ways to maintain branding here, and build a strong connection with your audience.