Brands as Archetypal Personalities
Brands as Archetypal Personalities
Brands are metaphors that represent products, companies and other organizations ranging from symphony orchestras to sports teams.
Usually consisting of a single term or symbol, marketers try to pack as much meaning into a brand as they can. Margret Mark and Carol Pearson, authors of The Hero and the Outlaw call the art of branding “meaning management.”
The Hero and the Outlaw, one of the best books on meaning management ever written in my view, is based on a study of over 1,110 brands. Mark and Pearson maintain that brands fall into one of 12 archetypes:
The Innocent: e.g., Coke, Disney, Pillsbury Doughboy
The Explorer: Starbucks, Jeep, Amazon
The Sage: Oprah, Discovery Channel, Mayo Clinic
The Hero: U.S. Army, FedEx, Nike
The Outlaw: Harley-Davidson, MTV, Apple
The Magician: Master Card, Energizer, Dannon
The Regular Guy/Gal: Perdue, Wrangler Jeans, Subway
The Lover: Hallmark, Godiva, Jaguar
The Jester: Pepsi, Bud Light, M&Ms
The Caregiver: Nordstrom, Campbell Soup, Marriott
The Creator: Sesame Street, Martha Stewart, Home Depot
The Ruler: Microsoft, Cadillac, Hertz
An archetype is a model of a person-type, personality or behavior style that projects meanings which are universally present in human life. If you were asked to Coke in terms of a personality type you might not invoke the word “innocent” but odds are that the words and images you summoned would be consistent with what “innocent” stands for. And the same would likely hold true for the other eleven archetypes in Mark and Pearson’s typology.
And that would be the case around the world in every culture, for that is what an archetype is all about.
Despite the universality of archetypal meanings, they are generally poorly understood in marketing. For example, after a brand has become associated with an archetypal image in the mind of the market, getting the market to go along with a personality change is a rare accomplishment. Nevertheless, marketers often attempt to change a brand’s archetypal personality. The story of the New Coke marketing disaster is a case in point. The much-ridiculed “It’s not your father’s Oldsmobile” campaign is another. Anecdotal evidence of the generally poor understanding of how brands work in consumers’ psyches appears every day in media.
A few years back Coke ran several commercials that so sharply deviated from its Innocent archetype that it was inundated with complaints. One commercial depicted a 101-year old at a party knocking stuff over with her electric wheelchair after being told that there was no Coke in the house. Another showed a soldier returning from boot camp storming out of a party in his honor after also being told Coke was not available. Substitute Pepsi the Jester, for Coke the Innocent and the ads would have worked.
Mark and Pearson got it right when they wrote,” 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. They have a relationship with it. They care about it.”
That is not idle speculation or unsupported opinion. As noted in the last post in this series, brands initially are processed in the right hemisphere of the brain where only objects and conditions related to living things are processed. If a brand was not perceived as alive in some way or intimately connected to something that is alive, it would be processed in the left hemisphere.
I have heard skeptics say something like, “People don’t want relationships with their toothpaste.” But the mere fact that a person has a favorite toothpaste brand says differently. She may not experience the relationship at a fully conscious level, but her connection with her toothpaste is nevertheless grounded in emotions. They guide her as she travels down the dental care isle in her pharmacy or local grocery store.
I misspoke in my last post. I promised to begin making the case that the Internet has made branding more important than ever and why that is. However, as I began thinking through what I wanted to say, I realized that my arguments rest on a better understanding of branding than generally exists in marketing. But I will bring the Internet into the discussion in a future post, after a bit more discussion of the basics of brand husbandry.