Successful brands have a strong sense of identity, one that mirrors the hopes and aspirations of their customers. But finding your voice – especially as a small business – can be difficult. And expensive. Identifying your brand archetype from this list will save you time and money and connect you instantly to your audience.
Why do so many films seem to have the exact same characters in them? The rugged action hero with a tortured past. The quirky romantic who can't do anything right. The wise cop drowning his sorrows in Scotch.
These characters seem to pop up all the time in books and films – and in the ways we categorise real people too. Psychologist Carl Jung believed that some story characters are instantly familiar to us because they are primal and instinctive, part of a ‘collective unconscious’ we all share.
These all-too-familiar characters are called Jungian archetypes.
Jungian archetypes have been adopted and examined by all sorts of groups. New Age spiritualists. Biologists. Even branding experts.
Branding houses will charge a premium to work out what personality types your target audience are likely to have. Then they create an identity and strategy for your business that matches and appeals to those types.
But it needn't be complicated – explore the list below to finding a style that speaks to you.
If you can work out what archetypes your business best fits, you're already on the path to better communication with your customers.
So, without further ado, here are the top 12 branding archetypes:
1. The Innocent
aka The Dreamer, The Romantic
The innocent’s core desire is to be free and happy, and their biggest fear is to do something wrong and be punished for it. Think Wall-E or Audrey Hepburn in every one of her films. At their best they are optimistic, honest and enthusiastic – at their worst they are irritating, boring and childish.
The innocent customer prefers straight-talking, gimmick-free advertising, and is naturally drawn to optimistic brands. Heavy-handed or guilt-inducing advertising is likely to repulse them.
Innocent brands promise simplicity.
Innocent-focused businesses promote themselves as pure, simple and trustworthy. The imagery they use is often natural and unfussy. The worst thing that can happen to an innocent business is uncovered corruption or deceit.
Who does this well? (You guessed it) Innocent smoothies!
This advert's calm, wholesome imagery and straightforward language is specially crafted to appeal to innocent types. It's like a smile coming from your TV set.
See also – McDonald's, Original Source
2. The Hero
aka The Superhero, The Warrior
The hero's main motivator is to prove their worth, and their greatest fears are weakness and failure. Think Erin Brokovich or Michael Jordan. At their best they are brave, determined and skilful – at their worst they are arrogant, aggressive and ruthless.
Hero customers value quality and efficiency in their products. They like to think their consumer choices will put them ahead of everyone else, and aren’t likely to be swayed by cute or funny adverts.
Hero brands promise triumph.
Hero businesses promote themselves as good quality and superior to their competition. The worst thing that can happen to a hero business is for a competitor to be rated higher or proven to be better value.
Who does this well? Duracell.
This advert from Duracell is pure warrior – confident and competitive. When your product is a power supply, your message needs to be powerful too.
See also – FedEx, Nike
3. The Regular Guy
aka The Everyman, The Good Guy
The regular guy (or girl) only wants to belong and feel a part of something, and their greatest fear is to be left out or to stand out from the crowd. Think Bilbo Baggins or Homer Simpson. At best they are friendly, empathetic and reliable – at worst they are weak, superficial and suggestible.
The everyman appreciates quality and dependability in their brands. They prefer the familiar to the strange, and will emotionally invest in brands that they trust.
Regular guy brands promise belonging.
Regular guy businesses take pride in their down-to-earth ethos. Their image is honest and dependable. The worst thing to happen to a regular guy business would be for them to appear greedy or elitist.
Who does this well? Carling
This Carling advert celebrates comfortable blokey friendship. It shows common birthday rituals surviving even in the harshest conditions, elevating these average Joes to the status of heroes.
See also – Vodafone, the This Girl Can campaign
4. The Nurturer
aka The Saint, The Parent
The nurturer is driven by their need to protect and care for others, and their worst fear is selfishness and ingratitude for their sacrifices. Think Maria from The Sound of Music or Ghandi. On the positive side they are compassionate, generous and strong, on the negative they are masochistic, manipulative and codependent.
Nurturer customers want to be recognised for their effort, without being patronised. Aggressive adverts are a massive turn-off, whereas emotionally-driven adverts often strike a chord.
Nurturer brands promise recognition.
Nurturer businesses offer protection, safety and support to their customers. The worst thing that can happen to a nurturer business is that their products are shown to be harmful or exploitative.
Who does this well? SMA
SMA are the epitome of a nurturer brand. The actual consumers of the product might be babies, but they know that the best way to make a sale is to appeal to their underappreciated mums.
See also – Ford, Go Compare
5. The Creator
aka The Artist, The Dreamer
The creator is driven by their desire to produce exceptional and enduring works, and they are most afraid of mediocrity. Think Frida Kahlo or Doc Brown in Back to the Future. At their best they are imaginative, expressive and innovative – at their worst they are self-indulgent, melodramatic and narcissistic.
Creator customers shun advertising in general but may enjoy experimental, boundary-pushing or novel ads. Creator types are a difficult category to appeal to, but successful creator brands often develop a devout fanbase.
Creator brands promise authenticity.
Creator brands often position themselves as the key to unlocking a creator's creativity. The worst thing a creator brand can be perceived as is inauthentic or 'sell-out'.
Who does this well? Apple
Apple have the creator brand identity nailed. In contrast to ruler brand Microsoft that values facts and order, they promote their products as the ultimate creative tools and champion the artistic efforts of their users.
See also – Lego, Canon
6. The Explorer
aka The Seeker, The Wanderer
The explorer craves adventure and wants to discover the world for themselves. They fear conformity and inner emptiness. Think Indiana Jones, or Amelia Earhart. On a good day they are independent, ambitious and spiritual, on a bad day they are restless, aimless and flaky.
Explorer customers embrace brands that promote freedom and self-discovery, especially those that invite the customer to embark on a journey with them. They are unlikely to be swayed by domestic-focused ads.
Explorer brands promise freedom.
Explorer brands promote themselves as a means to help others experience the new and unknown. The worst outcome for an explorer brand would be to come across as too rigid or corporate.
Who does this well? The North Face
The North Face is a clear explorer brand as the entire purpose of their products is to aid exploration. However, this ad doesn't focus on the nitty-gritty of the product features – it promotes the very spirit of exploration, aligning the brand with the belief system of its customers.
See also – Go Pro, Phileas Fogg
7. The Rebel
aka The Revolutionary, The Outlaw
The rebel craves revolution or revenge, and their greatest fear is powerlessness. Think Lisbeth Salander in Girl with a Dragon Tattoo or James Dean. At their best they are free-spirited, brave and adaptable – at their worst they are destructive, out of control, nihilistic.
Rebel customers appreciate the unconventional and forcefully reject the status quo. They are likely to value unique or shocking content with no obvious 'sell' to it.
Rebel brands promise revolution.
Rebel brands position themselves as an alternative to the mainstream and make an effort to stand out. Successful rebel brands are likely to have a cultlike following. The worst thing to happen to a rebel brand would be to be bought out or become too popular.
Who does this well? Harley Davidson
When we see tall, blonde women on TV they're usually hyper-feminised and selling beauty products. Harley Davidson's blonde protagonist is different – she's powerful, independent and risk-taking, subverting the convention.
See also – Levi Jeans, VO5
8. The Lover
The Dreamer, The Idealist
The lover lives to experience pleasure in their relationships, work and environment, and they fear being unwanted and unloved. Think Marilyn Monroe or Kim Kardashian. At their best they are passionate, magnetic and committed, at their worst they are people-pleasing, obsessive and shallow.
Lover customers value the aesthetic appearance of goods and services. They are likely to be drawn to premium brands that will make them seem more attractive to others.
Lover brands promise passion.
Lover brands promote themselves as glamourous, with an emphasis on sensual pleasure. Ads will typically focus on how the product feels for the customer. Lover brands can't come across as cheap or businesslike or their cultivated air of mystique will be ruined.
Who does this well? Victoria's Secret
Victoria's Secret have created an extravagant fantasy world where all tastes are catered for – the women featured are personifications of the brand that men can lust after and their female partners can aspire to. It says 'you too can be loved and desired, if you buy into this brand.'
See also – Galaxy chocolate, Herbal Essences
9. The Magician
aka The Shaman, The Visionary
The magician wants to understand the universe and their place in it, but they fear unintended negative consequences of their exploration. Think Nikola Tesla or Steve Jobs. On a good day they are driven and charismatic with a capacity for healing, on a bad day they are manipulative, dishonest and disconnected from reality.
Magician customers need to feel they can grow wiser or influence people by using your products. Ads should be as imaginative and inspiring as possible.
Magician brands promise knowledge.
Magician brands promote themselves as the gateway to transformative knowledge and experience. They focus on the individual rather than the group, and flatter the customer by telling them to trust their own instincts (and make the purchase). The worst things a magician brand can be seen as are too structured, regulated or hollow.
Who does this well? Disney
This ad from Disney doesn't focus on the rides or shows at Disneyland – instead they focus on the experience of a family visit. They address the individual viewer directly, positioning them as the keeper of knowledge and experience – with the power to influence their child's happiness.
See also – Lynx, Lululemon
10. The Ruler
aka The King, The Leader
The ruler is driven by their desire for power and control, and they are most afraid of chaos and being overthrown. Think Margaret Thatcher, or Jay-Z. A good ruler is confident, responsible and fair, whilst a bad ruler is rigid, controlling and entitled.
Ruler customers are naturally dominant and will not appreciate patronising or 'dumbed down' advertising. They will value ads that reinforce their feelings of power and stability.
Ruler brands promise power.
Ruler brands speak authoritatively, often spreading the idea that they are the lead in their field. Their image is solid, polished and often very 'masculine'. A ruler brand would suffer greatly by being perceived as weak, or by having to concede defeat to a rival company publicly.
Who does this well? American Express
This American Express ad oozes power and luxury. The protagonist is a successful leader of his field, living an affluent lifestyle and navigating life with ease and dignity – a potent ideal for an aspiring ruler.
See also: Hugo Boss, Rolex
11. The Jester
aka The Fool, The Comedian
The Jester wants to live in the moment and enjoy life, and they fear boredom above all else. Think Dori in Finding Nemo or Jim Carrey in almost anything. At their best they are joyful, carefree and original, at worst they are irresponsible, cruel and frivolous.
Jester customers find regular adverts boring, but will love anything unusual or playful – especially ads that make light of the seriousness of life.
Jester brands promise entertainment.
Jester brands give the impression that they live in the moment, use outrageous imagery and often tease their customers affectionately. Brands targeted at younger people – who will appreciate the silliness – are often jesters. The worst thing a jester brand could do is get embroiled in a bitter lawsuit or be seen to be strict with their customers.
Who does this well? Skittles.
This Skittles ad is pure silliness. The product itself doesn't even feature – in fact, the entire format of an ad is subverted in favour of a surreal joke. However, it guarantees a lot of views and shares from young jesters and their communities.
See also: McVities, Old Spice
12. The Sage
aka The Scholar, The Teacher
The sage seeks the truth and wants to find the wisdom in every situation. Their biggest fears are being misled and being ignorant. Think Yoda or David Bowie. At best they are wise, articulate and open-minded, at worst they are pedantic, self-absorbed and cold.
Sage customers believe that knowledge comes from growth, and constantly look for new sources of information. They prefer ads which challenge them to think in a new way.
Sage brands promise wisdom.
Sage brands promise learning and therefore often make use of higher level vocabulary and symbolic imagery. They trust their customers to grasp difficult ideas and understand intellectual in-jokes, and should avoid becoming too dumbed-down or patronising.
Who does this well? National Geographic Channel.
This advert from National Geographic states a series of quasi-philosophical statements against a backdrop of historical, natural and sociological scenery that gives their statements authoritative weight. It celebrates curiosity and would strongly appeal to anyone who valued developing their understanding of the world.
See also: the Alpha Course, Khan Academy
And that's that! Phew.
You might be thinking 'my business is a combination of lots of these!' and that's okay too. Hopefully, this article has given you some insight into why some companies project themselves the way they do – and inspired you to engage in new ways with your audience.
If you can identify the archetypes that you are trying to reach, and maximise the same traits in your business, you'll be streets ahead of your competition.
In the words of Sunny Bonnell:
'The earlier on in your company's journey that you can uncover your brand's true identity – the character your brand is meant to live out – the sooner your team can begin living it and leaving a lasting impression in your audience's minds'
So knock 'em dead, you crazy jester-artist-rebel you!
For more reading, try The Hero and the Outlaw by Margaret Mark and Carol S. Pearson – one of the first books to bring archetypes into branding.
The Seven Pillars of Storytelling
Audiences are tired of facts and figures. But stories? We’re hardwired to see stories as a gift.
Download your free ebook and become a master storyteller.