The Meaning of Marketing: The 12 Archetypes, Pt. 1
In our previous post, we introduced the concept of archetypal theory as it pertains to successful branding. In this next series of posts, we will take a more in-depth journey through each of the types by looking at real-world examples.
Pearson and Mark group the 12 primary archetypal identities into four sets of three, based upon shared core motivations or “longings,” which they derive from the Theory of Motivation shown below.
This theory illuminates a key point of connection between brand and customer. These motivations lay at the core of all human actions. Therefore, when your company successfully embodies a certain archetype, it appeals to those who bear parallel motivations. Pearson and Mark write, “An archetypal product identity speaks directly to the deep psychic imprint within the consumer, sparking a sense of recognition and of meaning. Archetypal images signal the fulfillment of basic human desires and motivations and release deep emotions and yearnings.” In essence, both brands and customers can embody archetypal identities and the more thoroughly you inhabit yours, the more connection you will build with your target audience.
But we’ll dive into the logistics of discerning your own brand identity in our third post. For now, let’s dive into what each of the archetypal identities is all about.
The First Three: Innocent, Explorer and Sage
The first three archetypal identities outlined in The Hero and the Outlaw are the Innocent, the Explorer, and the Sage. They are unified around a core motivation to reclaim a sense of self they feel has been lost. Brands and customers who embody any of these identities “seek to fulfill a longing for some ideal place where they can feel fully themselves and at home.” Each archetypal identity pursues fulfillment in unique ways and all tend to value independence over belonging, stability, and mastery. Along the way, however, all three must navigate the tension of reconciling the desire to rediscover oneself with the desire for connection.
The Innocent is driven by a sense of spirit or values and characterized by a desire to recover simplicity, peace, consistency/reliability, and wholeness. Pearson writes, “The primary promise of the Innocent is that life can be Eden … the secondary promise is that if any fall from Eden occurs, redemption is possible …” Innocent brands generally offer access—whether through products, services, or experiences—to this sought after “Eden,” and range from Ivory soap to organic food stores to McDonald’s. While on the surface these companies seem starkly different from one another, they all share values of consistency and simplicity.
For instance, a customer who walks into a McDonald’s in Virginia can expect the same experience and the same foods at a location in California. In addition to consistency, McDonald’s evokes a wistful sense of America through their classic burger and fries. For customers of the Innocent mindset, the restaurant is a bastion of reliability, nostalgia, and simplicity.
Unlike the Innocent, the Explorer seeks “the Promised Land” not by turning inwards but by looking outwards towards the vast world beyond. A restlessness carries their feet across new lands and into new experiences. The Explorer brand taps into this restiveness by directly enabling customers to wander (think forms of transportation, outerwear, and outdoor gear) or by conjuring images of nature and adventure in their marketing communications.
Starbucks is a highly successful example of the Explorer identity. The company’s essence is rooted in adventure and discovery, from their images and logo—a sea goddess based on a 1659 French woodcut—to their name (Starbuck is Ahab’s first mate in the classic tale, Moby Dick). Starbucks boasts 99 percent ethical sourcing and openly communicates the sources, processes, and people behind each type of bean they serve. By committing to their values of providing great coffee and bettering the world, Starbucks takes up the Explorer identity with skillful poise and tenacity.
The Sage believes learning and mental maturation are the keys to achieving fulfillment and independence. Sage brands usually provide services pertaining to education and the acquisition or development of knowledge. From institutions of higher education to think tanks, the Sage archetype can be found anywhere expertise is claimed.
Pearson and Mark applaud Oprah Winfrey as a salient embodiment of the Sage brand-icon. She is viewed by a wide demographic as a cultural authority on almost everything, such as the latest news, books, movies, or diets. Her talk show provided guests a rare, safe space to be candid and inquisitive. Furthermore, Oprah awakens the Sage customer’s core desire for a better world where they will find fulfillment and truth. Her warm and engaging personality makes people feel seen, heard, and perhaps hopeful that a better world is not too far off.
Tomorrow we’ll get into the next three archetypes on our list: the Hero, the Outlaw and the Magician.