Multiple Personality Disorder: A Study of Brand Archetypes

Growing up among rich kids, I had an overwhelming desire to ‘fit in.’  I wanted so badly to be like one of those ‘cool kids’ and so each new acquaintance gave me opportunity to ‘redefine’ myself. But however hard I tried, I always betrayed my true identity. It wasn’t long before my friends saw through my covers and began to dislike me. And until I embraced my uniqueness, I remained odd, unhappy and insecure. Same principle applies to your brand personality, each is peculiar and determines how it will be perceived. Your company has a unique personality, which determines how people connect with you and their willingness to do business with you or otherwise.

Archetypes communicate the essence and meaning of your brand to people; engender connection and authenticity. And since brands with multiple personalities come across as dubious, confused and false, you must be careful not to alter your brand personality by introducing another meaning to it. To embody your meaning and keep your message consistent, you must first understand your brand archetype.

Brand archetype theory is the identity, structure and  ‘sounding board’ that helps determine how best to convey the essence of your brand and how people connect with you. We tend to personify things; form relationships with them and assign meaning to them; based on how they interact with us and the world, what they represent, but most importantly, how they make us feel. Thus, people connect to your brand and assign meaning to it based on its personality or  archetype. Archetypes are primordial stories which we all understand instinctively. These 12 archetypes do more than mere labeling; they are viable tools for individuals and companies to determine and manage their narrative by using a profound, shared experience dating back to pre-historic times. Brand archetypes is, therefore, the most powerful tool to humanize and distinguish your brand.


A Brief History of Archetypes

Archetypes are as old as time and storytelling. This is what the Greek philosopher, Plato was referring to by ‘elemental forms;” the ideal templates on which everything in the material world is based; primordial “categories” or “imprints. The psychologist, Carl Jung revisited this idea in his Collective Unconscious, using mythology to explain how structures of the unconscious mind are shared among beings of the same species.  Jung described archetypes as ‘universal collective patterns of the unconscious.’ He believes every human, regardless of race, shares and understands these themes because they are an ‘undercurrent to all humanity.’ He believes members of the same species retain subconscious data of these themes; our unconscious thoughts and behaviors are connected and can be explained by stories from the earliest instance of human consciousness. Generally, archetypes explain mankind’s endless search for meaning through mythology, religion, art, literature, pop culture etc. Whether it’s the story of an outlaw in constant collision with society, or an explorer’s insatiable quest for adventure; archetypes are stories we all instinctively understand.

Why Brand Archetypes

Understanding your brand’s archetype helps you see the engine that feeds and drives your brand and how to leverage its true potential. Since archetypes represent a universal expression of meaning, they infuse humanity into your vision, mission, and values and distinguish you from competition. Brand archetypes allow you tell your brand story in a way that speak to your customer’s primary motivations; drive engagement and sales. It is the subliminal messages contained in your brand story that appeals to your customers. And once your customers align with your brand’s archetype, it is easy for them to trust your brand’s message; and thus build lasting brand/customer relationship.

“Archetypes are the heartbeat of a brand because they convey a meaning that makes customers relate to a product as if it actually were alive in some way,” write Margaret Mark and Carol S. Pearson in their book, The Hero and the Outlaw: Building Extraordinary Brands Through the Power of Archetypes. “They have a relationship with it. They care about it.”

brand archetype wheel

Meet the Archetypes


creator archetype
The CREATOR craves perfection

A creator isn’t worried about the cost of production or making things at scale. While the magician stresses vision and imagination, creators are different – they strive to create a product you can’t live without. Lego is a great example of a creator archetype. In one of their ads, Lego recreated in stunning detail the most famous sights of the world. They didn’t create some new technology. Lego used the simplest technology possible: blocks. They took this simplicity and pushed it to its most perfect extreme.

hero archetype
The HERO wants to prove himself

The hero makes the world better by being the best. A hero brand isn’t concerned with nurturing, it’s there to challenge you. If you want to rise to the occasion, you’re going to need a hero’s help.

The U.S. Army is the ultimate example of a hero archetype. Think of the recruitment commercials you’ve seen with troops jumping out of helicopters, running through training courses and protecting the country. Does any of that resemble your day-to-day? Of course not. It’s not supposed to. It’s designed to compel you to “answer the call.”


outlaw archetype
The OUTLAW seeks revolution

The outlaw isn’t afraid. Where the innocent touches the part of you that loved snack time in kindergarten, the outlaw archetype appeals to the part of you that cut classes in high school.

Building a cult following like Apple is the ultimate goal of an outlaw brand. Remember those old iPod commercials where monochromatic figures had the times of their lives dancing? That ad doesn’t tell you to stand in a crowd or passively attend a concert. It tells you to be yourself, to dance whenever you like, and to do it with Apple. If you think Apple doesn’t have a cult following, consider this: Did people wait in line for hours when the Galaxy S7 was released?

lover archetype
The LOVER makes you theirs

Passion, pleasure, and sensuality are keys to the lover’s heart. A lover brand wants you to associate them with the intimate moments in your life. What do you buy to celebrate? How do you indulge your significant other? Chances are, you’re buying from a lover brand.

Think of Godiva Chocolate ads. Do they ever make you think about your health, your finances or your future? No. Godiva seduces you. It shows off its richness and creaminess.

everyman archetype

The EVERY DAY MAN wants to belong

This archetype is focused on providing something so far removed from pretentiousness that it can appeal to everyone. It is the most challenging archetype to pull off because you have to have a product that actually appeals across demographics. Everyone drinks coffee. Not every human being, but every major demographic with the exception of small children. That’s what makes Folgers a great brand for everyone. Folgers doesn’t market to a hip crowd. They don’t brag about their high quality, all-organic coffee. They keep it simple: “The best part of waking up is Folgers in your cup.” Everyone wakes up, so everyone drinks Folgers.


sage archetype

The SAGE is always seeking the truth

To a sage, wisdom is the key to success. Everything else is secondary to the pursuit of knowledge. Though this brand might give you the warm and fuzzies, and they don’t enrapture you in a fantasy world like Disney, a sage commands respect by illustrating brilliance.  Harvard University is a sage. The academic environment is one of the most revered in the world, boasting an alumni list that includes eight U.S. presidents, 21 Nobel laureates and Mark Zuckerberg (kinda).


explorer archetype
The EXPLORER break free

Freedom is the top priority for an explorer. Where other brands might try to help you build a home, these brands want to get you out of it. Subaru is the classic fit for this archetype. The company doesn’t sell cars based on luxury or comfort – instead, freedom is the focus. Blizzard? No problem. Subaru allows you decide where you’re going, no matter the circumstance –You’re free.

innocent archetype

The INNOCENT just wants to be happy

Everything is free, virtuous and content in an innocent’s world. An innocent brand will never guilt you try to convince you excessively. Instead, an innocent brand will charm you with something more powerful: Nostalgia. Dove is the prototypical innocent.


ruler archetype
The RULER wants absolute power

Luxury and exclusivity – A ruler brand is a gatekeeper. Perception as high-quality and expensive is critical, so product categories that fall under this umbrella include jewelry and high-end vehicles. Do you buy a Mercedes-Benz because of its crash-test rating? No. That quietly understood value is what a ruler brand sells.


jester archetype
The JESTER lives in the moment

Humor, silliness, and nonsense are all in a jester’s toolkit. The goal of a jester brand is to make you smile with light-hearted fun. The Old Spice Man is an all-time favorite ad campaign and the perfect example of a jester archetype. Some male consumers react well to hyper-masculine branding, while others don’t. By making a joke out of these super manly brands, Old Spice appeal to both sides.


caregiver archetype

 The CAREGIVER nurtures you

The caregiver is benevolent and just wants to be there for you. Caregiver brands build trust. It’s rare to see a caregiver brand run an ad that takes a shot at their competition. They are the opposite of confrontational. Johnson & Johnson’s tagline line is “Johnson & Johnson: A Family Company.” This is bread-and-butter for the caregiver archetype.

magician archetype

The MAGICIAN makes dreams come true

Magician brands don’t build you a better toothbrush or help you keep your house clean; they bring your wildest dreams to life. Disney is an example of a magical brand. Though it is fundamentally a media company, the company offers a transformative experience. The organization sits in a category of its own because of its vision. Imagine another brand that could build the Magic Kingdom or a Disney World.

Why Archetypes Matter to Your Brand

A handy way to understand archetypes is to think of them as different segments of our own psyche. We all have a piece of each of the above-mentioned archetypes in us. When a brand is dominant in a particular archetype, it resonates with that part of our psyche (and at times can even awaken it within us). As a business or brand, it’s all about creating a connection that speaks to your target audience.

These days, there is no product or service that doesn’t face competition. Back when we had a burgeoning industrial economy, companies realized that competitors could duplicate their systems, processes, and products so they quickly learned they had two options: Reduce their prices or give meaning to their products. Guess which one is the better option?

In todays cluttered marketplace, brands that feel undifferentiated fall to commodity status, and by default, price becomes the consumers primary criterion for choosing.

Today we know that without a strongly defined brand, businesses are forced to compete on price alone. It’s no secret that in our global, interconnected economy there is always someone willing to do it cheaper! People buy for emotional and psychological reasons, so the meaning of your brand is its biggest asset. What your brand means to people is what causes them to buy in, to want to form a relationship with you — and to remain loyal to you.

Build a Strong Brand

By “strong” I don’t mean overbearing or loud. A strong personality is one that is clearly defined and articulated in everything your business does, not one that clumsily waffles across many personalities, unsure of which one to choose. About fifteen years ago, a Young & Rubicam study of over 13,000 brands and 120,000 consumers confirmed that the more profitable brands were also the ones that aligned closely with a single archetype, rather than those who had “confusing” brand archetypes, or identified closely with multiple archetypes. Your business brand may have a secondary (and perhaps even tertiary) archetype, but how closely it lines up with your primary archetype will impact how your brand is perceived. Align with too many archetypes and you run the risk of having a brand afflicted with multiple personality disorder.




To write is human, to communicate is divine... Having mastered the art of brand story telling, I have come to realise that it's not just about what story I tell, but how I do the telling to drive engagement and boost sales.

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