Brand Archetypes: What They Are and How They Can Help You
What if there was a way to identify exactly how to communicate your brand messaging quickly and easily? What if there was a way to express your brand while practically guaranteeing conversions authentically? You’ve heard of brand personas and identities, but have you worked with archetypes? The 12 brand archetypes are kind of like characters for your brand. Every brand fits into at least one archetype. Understanding your brand’s archetype could help clarify how to communicate with your audience. It allows you to personify the brand, giving it actual traits that your audience can identify with. This connection creates an increased opportunity to execute a successful campaign and build brand loyalty. Ruby Porter uses brand archetypes to make our content strategy clearer and richer. But how do you figure out a brand’s archetype? Below, we define each archetype, examples of brands that fit into each archetype, and essential things to remember for each archetype.
The hero is exactly what you would think: courageous, inspiring, determined. The hero works hard and has ingrained values. “Where there’s a will, there’s a way for the hero.” You can see the hero in brands like Nike, Adidas, and Duracell. You’ll often see the hero archetype used in the outdoor industry and sportswear or emergency services. That’s because, above all, the hero is promoting a mission. Whether that’s powering a hospital or running a marathon, it’s something that people can easily buy into and believe. There are, however, things to watch out for with the hero archetype. The hero’s inspiring, driven personality can quickly become arrogant and pushy. Heroes also fear failure, which can quickly push them over the edge into futility. It’s all about balancing inspiration with action.
Oh, the innocent. This sincere, optimistic, honest archetype values safety above all else. The purity of this archetype lends itself to the wellness and organic food industries. Take Dove, for instance. This body care brand promotes the natural woman who uses natural, nourishing ingredients. They want you to feel good in your own skin. Another brand that exemplifies the innocent is Coca-Cola. Their marketing makes one feel nostalgic and full of wonder. Many of their campaigns are shown through the eyes of children or animals. It’s a highly advantageous archetype to fall into, as there are many avenues to go down with your creative work. But watch out, the sweetness of the innocent can quickly turn sickly, smothering, or naïve. You don’t want to come off as unintelligent or out-of-touch.
This one is for the bold and the brave. The explorer lives outside their comfort zone, loves adventure and is always up for a challenge. The explorer is driven to discover where many archetypes would be frightened of the unknown. For industries that market to adrenaline junkies, this is your archetype. Outdoor and extreme sports equipment, SUVs, and travel can often be seen using the explorer archetype in their messaging. Let’s look at REI for this one. From the products they sell to how they run their business, REI fully embodies the explorer. They’re a go-to retailer for everything outdoors. They give employees the weekend of Black Friday off to explore and spend time with loved ones even though it’s the biggest shopping weekend of the year. REI is loyal to innovation and opportunity, and they’ve done a fantastic job of communicating this. If you’re going to use the explorer, make sure you make space for enjoying the freedom that comes with adventure. If you’re constantly looking for your next adventure or project, you could come off flakey or unappreciative of the moment. Savor freedom once you get it.
The search for knowledge and truth drives the Sage. They seek as much information and education as they can and, in turn, share that knowledge. A few brands immediately come to mind when thinking about the Sage. News and media, educational institutions, and search engines perfectly embody the Sage. Think about Google, The New York Times, BBC, the list goes on. Google, for instance, is about being the world’s largest and most accessible encyclopedia, but its brand promotes curiosity and the seeking of answers. When assigning your archetype, it’s crucial to think about how the “what” and the “why” work together. That’s when you’ll truly discern your brand’s archetype. With the Sage, be careful not to come across as a know-it-all. They’re all about empowering others in their search for truth.
From Robin Hood to James Dean, people love an outlaw. They’re all about testing limits and breaking the rules. It’s in their DNA. But it’s not just about being rebellious. It’s about standing out and going against the grain. There is a certain level of bravery required to truly be an outlaw. The Outlaw archetype is frequently used in the automotive, construction, and body art industries or those that target certain men. To see an iconic example of the Outlaw, look to Harley-Davidson. Despite being only the 5th most popular motorcycle, they arguably have the strongest branding. Their rebellious, free-spirited nature has built their brand into an icon. They need to be careful, though, as one who is rebellious can quickly turn reckless, unreliable, or controlling. Don’t let the outlaw persona get away with warping your branding.
The magician can be a really fun archetype. They push the limits of imagination and innovation. This archetype is especially effective with products that people wouldn’t usually get excited about. Vacuums, for instance, are not the most thrilling purchase. But Dyson has made vacuums, hair tools, air purifiers, and more into sleek, desirable products. Apple and Disney do similar things with their brand strategies. This mysterious, awe-inspiring persona makes magic happen. Just be wary of crossing the line to manipulative, weird, or delusional. It’s easy for audiences to interpret the message negatively if you don’t toe that line.
The jester is all about fun and creating connections. They keep things light-hearted and use humor to bond with their audience. When done well, this mission for connection inspires potentially viral content that resonates with large groups of audiences. Some jester brands that come to mind are Ben & Jerry’s, Old Spice, and M&M’s. Old Spice’s “The Man Your Man Could Smell Like” exploded quickly after premiering. It was funny, innovative, well-executed, and completely revived the brand. Old Spice was previously known as an older man’s brand, but this campaign and the one that followed turned the brand into the go-to deodorant and body soap for the modern man and eventually women! This was not an easy outcome to achieve. First of all, you have to be funny, which is not easy or automatic. You also need to find a balance between humor and authority. Otherwise, people might not take you seriously, and they’ll just see you as a funny little video they watched once.
This one is for the makers. Creators are driven by imagination and innovation. If someone can think of it, someone can make it. Many in the marketing and advertising industry identify as creators. Creators also tend to be writers, designers, artists, or information technology experts. This archetype is inspiring, original, and often trendsetting. Think Apple, Lego, Pinterest, or one that most in this industry know and love, Adobe. Adobe facilitates creation in virtually any digital medium, and its marketing exemplifies that. The boundless imagination that goes into their campaigns makes its audience think, “I want to do that.” It’s important to remember that you can do that, not that you can do it better. Creators can come across as egotistical and self-centered. If you choose to identify a brand with the creator, stay humble and curious.
The ruler is synonymous with luxury, quality, and power. Just think of your favorite high-end brand. They probably fit into this archetype. They thrive on structure and being in charge but can come across as responsible and under control. Take Mercedes Benz. Their slogan, “The Best or Nothing,” instills a sense of supremacy and excellence. The combination of efficiency, engineering, and design keeps people coming back, but their branding brings the audience over in the first place. You can also see this in Chanel and Rolex. Luxury cars, clothing, accessories, and hotels frequently utilize the ruler archetype to solidify themselves as a moniker of the highest quality in their industry. Unfortunately, the brand will instead come across as cold and ingenuine if done incorrectly. This archetype quickly fails for companies when the quality of the product isn’t there. The ruler can be tricky to master but very effective in the long run.
Think about an average neighbor, just a regular Joe. That’s the Everyperson. They are humble, hardworking, and honest. They want to connect with people while enjoying the simple things in life. They are not exclusionary or judgmental. They don’t blend in or stand out. They just want to belong. Industries like automotive, food, apparel, and home goods are often portrayed as every people. Lowes, Budweiser, and Target are all great examples of this. They have something for everyone, they’re easily accessible and affordable. On top of it all, they have solid virtues and are very relatable. These things are their greatest strength and weakness. While it’s good to make people feel like they belong, it can get to a point where you blend in too much. Without consistent, clever branding, you’ll never be noticed among all the others in your industry. This can also be a problem because innovation and relatability don’t exactly go together. It isn’t easy to think outside of the box and have people relate to you.
Caregivers tend to be easy to identify. Their central values revolve around protection, compassion, and nurturing. This generous nature often shows in the work of non-profits, hospitals or medical practices, educational institutions, and environmental organizations. Caregivers are all about helping those in need and helping everyone because everyone is deserving. The WWF, Johnson & Johnson, and UNICEF are great examples of caregivers who have leaned into their archetype and have used it to their advantage. Whether helping endangered animals or teaching the next generation, caretakers tend to dedicate their life’s work to the cause. When working with a caregiver archetype, fine-tuning your positioning is essential. The brand could come across as whiny, weak, or even manipulative if you don’t. Don’t let their passion be drowned out or misinterpreted.
Finally, we have the lover. The lover archetype highlights feelings of affection and indulgence. Some will say it’s all about sensuality and desire, but it can be more profound. Sure, brands like Victoria’s Secret exemplify the go-to lover archetype, but there are many levels to this persona. Brands like Haagen Dazs and Hallmark, while seemingly unrelated to Victoria’s Secret, are other types of lovers. Haagen Dazs focuses on indulgence, while Hallmark aims for affection. To quote Hallmark, they are “dedicated to creating a more emotionally connected world and making a difference in the lives of others.” Victoria’s Secret grabs at physical intimacy while Hallmark leads to emotional intimacy. Both sides have their benefits, and both brands are appropriately positioned within the lover archetype. The lover attracts people with strong passions and emotions. That’s why chocolate is a perfect example. But just like with chocolate, too much is too much. You don’t want them to come across as dramatic or emotionally overbearing.
Could you sort all of your clients into these archetypes? Or what about choosing one for yourself? It’s more complicated than it looks to choose just one, but it will be worth it in the end. If you can distill who a brand is and how it should communicate to its target audience, you’re on the right path to creating a successful campaign or brand. You might even want to sort your audience into an archetype. Finding complementary archetypes will make communication easier and build deeper connections and brand loyalty. Choose incorrectly, however, and your audience will see right through you. It all comes back to authenticity.