The idea of an archetype was created by psychologist Carl Jung. Jungian archetypes are images and themes derived from the collective unconscious. They serve as a way for humans to recognize and categorize different people, personalities, and behaviors. Archetypes are foundational tools for storytelling in movies, books, TV, and other forms of storytelling. So what are brand archetypes?
What Are Brand Archetypes?
Brand archetypes take the prototypical personalities established by Dr. Jung and apply them to your brand as a way to frame how your brand is experienced by customers and employees. Embracing a brand archetype helps make sure that the brand is consistent in how it is represented across all marketing and advertising touchpoints. Thoughtful and well-executed brand archetypes can also be a huge opportunity for brands looking to create an authentic emotional connection with their audience.
12 Most Common Brand Archetypes:
- The Outlaw
- The Magician
- The Hero
- The Lover
- The Jester
- The Everyperson (Everyman)
- The Caregiver
- The Ruler
- The Creator
- The Innocent
- The Sage
- The Explorer
The Outlaw disrupts, challenges the status quo, paves their own path, and bucks trends. They can be divisive and aren’t for everyone — people either love them or hate them. They have a set of unwavering beliefs and aren’t known to follow the rules.
At their best, they are independent, strong, and disruptive.
At their worst, they are stubborn, offputting, and arrogant.
Core Belief: Rules are meant to be broken.
Examples include Virgin, yours truly (VSSL), and Vans.
The Magician imagines new possibilities, sees potential that others miss, and creates moments of wonder for their customers. They think outside the box and make dreams a reality, never shying away from an opportunity to leverage knowledge to dazzle their audience.
At their best, they are visionaries, powerful, and ambitious.
At their worst they are pretentious, cheesy, and unrelatable.
Core belief: Make the impossible, possible.
Examples include Disney, Dyson, and Apple.
The Hero is strong, guided by a set of core beliefs, and pushes others to overcome their individual challenges. They are determined to master a set of skills and seek to inspire others to do the same. They have a strong work ethic and use that to make the world a better place.
At their best, they are inspirational, strong, and honest.
At their worst, they are boastful, polarizing, and idealistic.
Core belief: Where there’s a will, there’s a way.
Examples include Nike, FedEx, and Red Cross.
The Lover is passionate, creates emotional desire, and usually exists to elicit pleasure. They tend to feel lavish, sensual, and opulent. They can also be family-oriented, seeking to create bonds between people.
At their best, they are irresistible, exquisite, and passionate.
At their worst, they are fluffy, cheap, and shallow.
Core belief: I only have eyes for you.
Examples include Chanel, Victoria’s Secret, and Godiva.
The Jester never takes themselves too seriously, loves to make people laugh, and keeps their audience entertained. They are irreverent, playful, and lighthearted. The Jester often uses humorous metaphors and sarcasm to make light of serious things.
At their best, they are funny, smart, and positive.
At their worst, they are cheesy, juvenile, and shallow.
Core belief: If you’re not having fun, you’re doing it wrong.
Examples include Skittles, Old Spice, and Geico.
The Everyperson (Everyman)
The Everyperson seeks to create community, invites people from all walks of life, and fosters a feeling of belonging. They are unpretentious, relatable, and down to earth. The Everyperson doesn’t want to stand out and instead seeks to be liked by everyone.
At their best, they are inviting, approachable, and humble.
At their worst, they are ordinary, forgettable, and safe.
Core belief: You’re just like me and I’m just like you.
Examples include IKEA, Budweiser, and Target.
The Caregiver often has a maternal quality to them. They are compassionate, provide a sense of security, and selflessly nurture those around them. Their saint-like qualities make them pretty universally liked.
At their best, they are supportive, kind, and warm.
At their worst, they are weak, naive, and wishy-washy.
Core belief: Love your neighbor as yourself.
Examples include TOMS, Kaiser Permanente, and Johnson & Johnson.
The Ruler creates rules for others to follow, holds really high standards, and speaks with the voice of authority within their category. They can be a little niche, but they are ok with that. Brands that identify as The Ruler convey wealth, class, and sophistication.
At their best, they are leaders, powerful, and refined.
At their worst, they are arrogant, exclusionary, and intimidating.
Core belief: Power isn’t everything. It’s the only thing.
Examples include Rolex, Stella Artois, and Mercedes-Benz.
The Creator is excited to explore ideas and create things with lasting value, embracing the creative process just as much as the end result. They are original, self-expressive, and passionate. They tend to make products or provide services that enable other creators.
At their best, they are provocative, imaginative, and trendsetters.
At their worst, they are directionless, egotistical, and obsessive.
Core belief: If it can be imagined, it can be created.
Examples include LEGO, Adobe, and Pixar.
The Innocent is honest, optimistic, and pure. They appreciate simplicity, strive to spread joy, and would never speak ill of others. They avoid big stunts or over-the-top marketing campaigns and instead appeal to customers with simple, authentic acts.
At their best, they are virtuous, honest, and straightforward.
At their worst, they are shallow, shy, and lacking innovation.
Core belief: The glass is half full.
Examples include Dove, McDonald’s, and Coca-Cola.
The Sage seeks and creates understanding in the world through knowledge gathering and sharing. They are thought leaders in their space and maintain a lot of influence. That said, The Sage isn’t out to change the world—they want to equip others with knowledge so that they can.
At their best, they are wise, curious, and scientific.
At their worst, they are pretentious, unrelatable, and unfocused.
Core belief: The truth will set you free.
Examples include TED, SAP, and MIT.
The Explorer is always innovating and gets fulfillment from a constant journey of discovery. They hate conformity, embrace new challenges, and encourage others to take on challenges, too. The Explorer is always pushing things and is a leading innovator within their industry.
At their best, they are exciting, daring, and inspiring.
At their worst, they are flighty, aggressive, and over-the-top.
Core belief: You only get one life. Make it count.
Examples include National Geographic, The North Face, and Jeep.
How to Connect Your Brand Archetype With Your Audience
Whichever brand archetype you choose, it should come naturally, make sense to the employees, and should not feel forced. Some brands only choose one archetype, but we suggest choosing two because it avoids your brand feeling one-dimensional and allows you some flexibility for different marketing efforts. When exploring archetypes, it’s important to consider industry, audience, and competitors. But the most important thing is that the chosen archetype is authentic.
The industry is an important part of choosing your brand archetype because that plays a huge role in how the chosen archetype will resonate. For example, it could be a risky choice for a FinTech company to choose The Lover as their brand archetype. On the other hand, it might be brilliant because it could create a lot of brand differentiation for them.
Understanding your audience is another key piece in choosing your brand archetype because different groups of people will gravitate toward different archetypes. If your brand makes motorcycles and targets men aged 35–50, choosing The Innocent as your brand archetype may not work as well as it would for an education platform for pre-K children.
The last thing to consider is what your industry competitors are doing. Depending on the maturity of your business, you could make the choice to align with the industry or choose to go in a completely different direction. A good example of making a counterintuitive choice that paid off is in the insurance industry. One might think that brand archetypes like The Caregiver, The Everyperson, or The Hero make the most sense, but Geico decided to go a completely different way. They chose The Jester, which can be endearing for customers but isn’t known for instilling trust, strength, or confidence. Despite that, people loved their marketing and you can see other insurance brands like Allstate and Progressive following suit.
Putting VSSL’s Brand Archetypes to Use
The brand archetype process was instrumental in forming VSSL’s brand voice and aesthetic. The most important thing for us was to ensure that our brand felt authentic to who we are and what we do: a small, scrappy group of marketers passionate about creating killer work.
We also looked at what made us different from other agencies. We are located right on the water and influenced by the sailors and fishermen on the docks and in our building. We were founded with the intention to bring passion to our work and not just follow in the footsteps of other agencies. We never settle for the obvious solution and are always looking for ways to do unexpected things for our clients. We are who we are, and we don’t want to fit into the box of a “creative agency.”
While most agencies might reflect The Magician or The Sage, we combined two archetypes: The Outlaw and The Creator. That influences everything in our brand: our positioning, brand voice, visual identity, and culture. It gives us a very different brand voice that reflects our disruptive spirit, allows us to operate differently than other agencies, and gives us the opportunity to be super creative with our design. We are not just another agency, nor do we want to be.
Brand archetypes are a potent tool in establishing your brand from a visual and written perspective. At VSSL, we find the brand archetype process to be really engaging to our clients because it can feel more tangible than some of the other brand exercises we do. When carefully selected and strategically embodied, customers will come to know your brand beyond a collection of products and services.