Strengthening The Voice of Your Brand Using Archetypes

Take a moment to reflect on Nike’s branding over the last few decades: the introduction of “Just do it,” Michael Jordan’s “Wings” ad, and headlines like, “Find your greatness” and “Eat our dust.” The brand has mastered and stayed true to the Hero archetype, which we’ll cover below, across all platforms of communication. In word choice, photography and music choice, the brand inspires a sense of loyalty among its customers most brands can only dream of achieving.

The use of archetypes in branding isn’t a new concept. A simple Google search reveals all you could ever want to know about archetypes and how they’re used. But what you won’t find is a deep dive into how they can be used to shape and define the tone of your brand. So let’s take a closer look now, shall we?

What is an archetype?

Before we get started, here’s a brief refresher on archetypes:

According to famed Swiss psychologist, Carl Jung (1875-1961), an archetype is a universally familiar character or situation that transcends time, place, culture, gender and age. It represents an eternal truth. Simply put, an archetype is a symbol that has been ingrained in the human mind over time, and because of this, consumers can easily associate with and understand the behaviors and beliefs of each character.

There are anywhere from 12-15 clearly identified archetypes. This includes the Hero who saves the day, and has the ego to tell everyone about it; the Everyman, who is the neighbor you trust and rely on for advice; and the Lover who will bend over backward to make you feel taken care of and appreciated.

Aligning values and archetype-driven branding

It’s not uncommon for brands to align their value system with an archetype. Using this methodology makes companies more human and more approachable to consumers. Archetypes also help internal teams understand and buy in to the philosophy and behaviors of a company. For marketing purposes, archetypes serve as a gut check to make sure the message, tone and overall look and feel of each piece of communication stays true to the brand. This is especially beneficial for internal marketing teams. They are more prone to becoming consumed with tasks, which makes it harder to keep the overall brand front and center.

The candy bar industry is an easy way to identify and understand how archetypes can help define a brand’s personality. There are dozens of types of candy bars, so we’ll focus on three for simplicity. First, consider Snickers as a brand. What comes to mind upon hearing that name? Chances are, the word hunger (or the lack thereof after eating one) came to mind. The brand’s current campaign uses the phrase: “You’re not you when you’re hungry”. The brand has also used, “Snickers satisfies”, which paints a similar picture. Throughout much of its branding, the candy bar is clearly the Hero. It saves you from hunger, no matter where you are or what you’re doing.

Next, consider KitKat’s archetype. This brand has used, “Break me off a piece of that KitKat bar,” in marketing as well as, “Everyone could use a break”. It takes a more playful approach but has presented itself as the candy bar for everyone throughout much of its history. It’s messaging often speaks to sharing a KitKat, which further leans toward the Everyman archetype. It’s tone speaks to bringing people together.

Lastly, think back to the last M&M’s commercial you’ve seen. Several years ago the brand developed characters of its different colors and flavors of bite-sized candy to tell its story. All humorous in nature and a little off the wall at times. Clearly, this is a Jester brand, one that doesn’t take itself too seriously. The Jester is more open to risk, pushing boundaries with its humor and strange banter.

How to use archetypes to define your brand’s voice

Today, brands need to be more human, as consumers are changing how they make purchasing decisions. Price and quality still matter, but social consciousness and sustainability are gaining momentum among younger audiences. The idea of “tribes” or groups of people who share similar values, opinions, and behaviors also causes brands to shift gears. The company values and philosophies that used to be hidden deep within a website are now often front and center.

Ultimately, by identifying core values and then aligning those to an archetype that shares similar characteristics, companies open the door to building relationships with like-minded consumers. From there, brand personalities are created and used to drive behaviors and messaging, both internally and externally.

Focusing solely on tone and voice, think back to the three candy bar brands discussed above:

  • Snickers: Uses bold, straightforward language that leans toward a more ego-driven tone. The brand uses phrases like, “You’re not you when you’re hungry,” which creates a very different feeling than if it said, “you’ll feel better if you eat a Snickers”. The context is virtually the same but the tone paints a different picture.
  • KitKat: Uses bright colors, playful music and takes a more social or Everyman approach. The brand uses the word “break” consistently throughout its marketing. The word serves as a double entendre in that the audience is encouraged to break off a piece and share it, and is also encouraged to take a break from whatever they’re doing to enjoy a KitKat bar. Over time, the brand has become the candy bar you can break off and hand out. If “break” was replaced with “snap off” or “tear” the message would feel very different. This is a classic example of how word choice can change the story and the overall feel of a brand.
  • M&M: Uses playful banter and characters to demonstrate a Jester tone. Rarely, if ever, does the brand focus on a single M&M. Instead, it creates scenarios that open the door to witty conversation among the various flavors of the candy. All of which are written using light-hearted, humorous language.

To be successful, brands need to carefully dissect their archetype, making a list of adjectives to describe the behaviors of their character, as well as a list of words or phrases that help bring the archetype to life. These words and phrases should be compared to key messages, and woven throughout or further edited to strengthen the brand. The worst thing a company can do is toss phrases into their communications without aligning them with their core messaging. Doing so causes confusion, which leads to disbelief in the company and what it stands for.

Strengthen your brand’s tone by studying others

One of the easiest ways a brand can begin considering the use of archetypes to strengthen the personality and tone of their brand is to study others. By learning the attributes and behaviors of the core 12 archetypes and comparing those to brand communications, anyone could start to place a company within one or two archetypes. Choose a few successful brands and study their advertising and branding efforts. Jot down words and phrases they use and compare them to the values they outline on their website. If they’ve done their job well, the story behind their brand is clear and meaningful.

Consider the archetypes in conversation about the company’s values and brand to help identify the one or two that seem to fit. Keep in mind that a company’s behavior, decisions, attitude, and language need to stay in line with their chosen archetype(s) at all times. It’s impossible to choose an archetype first and build a company to fit. Doing so nearly guarantees failure. The right archetype for a brand should be brought to the surface through investigating and comparing the values and behaviors of a company to the attributes and behaviors of the archetypes.

A brand’s greatest success in implementing archetypes is to engage an outside expert. Partnering with an agency who understands and works with brands and archetypes is a faster, and more effective plan for improving how to improve the tone and delivery of a company’s values through archetypes. They can help create guidelines, including lists of words and phrases that reflect who a company is, delivered in a tone that clearly identifies with an archetype.

These guidelines can serve a company well to attract and build relationships with the right tribe of consumers. Start investigating your brand archetype by taking this quick Archetype Discovery Quiz.


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