Archetype Series #1: Magicians, Heroes and Outlaws

How Carl Jung’s character models can help a company uncover its true brand identity.
magical stars flying up

A brand is much more than a logo or a tagline. It’s the cohesive combination of what the brand stands for, what it says and what it does. To truly come to life, a brand needs dimension beyond the 2D world of its verbal and visual identity; it needs to live in the everyday experiences it creates and how it engages with its audiences. Similar to people, brands should have a driving force that makes them tick: a unique identity. Yet, many brands struggle to identify their credible, authentic selves, let alone express it in a way that resonates with their audiences.

What are archetypes?

To help our clients tap into their identity, we turn to Carl Jung’s archetypes. Developed by the famed psychologist in the 1940s, Jung’s set of 12 archetypes – common character models – were based on the human psyche and behaviors. And while Jung surely wasn’t thinking about branding when he created these archetypes, it turns out that they’re a useful tool to help companies better understand themselves.

Originating from the Greek words “archein” and “typos” – meaning “original pattern” – an archetype helps identify the personality traits and characteristics specific to a person…or a brand. Though most brands (and people, for that matter) have elements of more than one archetype, there’s usually one or two that rise to the top.

Nine unique ways to define a brand

To show how archetypes can manifest within a brand, we’ve developed a three-part series that explores nine of Jung’s twelve archetypes. (While there are certainly brands that are mischievous Jokers, seductive Lovers, and the Everyman, we find that these three archetypes don’t usually apply to B2B brands.) As the series looks at what archetypes are, how to identify a brand’s archetype, and how to apply that archetype across the brand experience, we’ll also take a closer look at each of the nine archetypes we explore with our clients.

The Magician

From Harry Houdini to David Copperfield and Criss Angel, the role of the magician is to leave audiences reveling in bewilderment and awe. And there is no greater magician than Disney. From the iconic Mickey Mouse – literally clad in a magician’s traditional white gloves – to the appropriately named Magic Kingdom theme park and, more recently, the MagicBands that make a park visit so seamless that it feels like magic, Disney continuously creates a sense of wonder and amazement felt by each person who experiences the brand.

But magic isn’t just for consumer brands. Many B2B brands emphasize their visionary nature or their drive to transform. For example, we helped a professional services client its own magical power: the consistent ability to anticipate how the industries they serve were evolving and what their clients would need next. With an understanding of this role in their clients’ customers’ lives, our client was able to elevate its unique value proposition.

The Hero

When a challenge feels insurmountable or all hope seems lost, the Hero is there to save the day. This archetype, known for its strength and determination, helps make the impossible, possible. Whether they are the hero or empower others to become heroes, brands like FedEx and Nike help their customers overcome obstacles and gain confidence to get the job done.

ICF, a global management consulting firm, had always thought of itself as a thought leader with a creative bent. However, through our workshop exploration, the brand realized that its true role was making clients the heroes. Whether it was reinvigorating an entire country’s tourist economy, inspiring millions of smokers to quit, or making energy conservation second nature on two continents, ICF continuously empowered its clients to make big things possible.

The Outlaw

While the word may conjure up images of bad boys riding their Harleys, there’s much more to the Outlaw. Unafraid to reject society’s conventions, Outlaws embrace risk-taking and discover fresh ways of doing things. Virgin America, determined to make flying fun again, flipped the staid airline industry on its head. With onboard purple mood lighting and cushy leather seats, a customized boarding pass (thoughtfully designed to fit your wallet), and an energizing “safety dance” video that completely reinvented the traditional FAA-required safety demonstrations, Virgin America took an outlaw stance against ordinary airline behavior. And while Virgin America has been acquired by Alaska Airlines, Virgin America’s sister company, Virgin Atlantic, ensures this spirited legacy lives on.

Archetypes help brands understand where they fit in the market and in the lives of their customers. In our next archetypes article, we’ll delve into three more Jungian archetypes for you to consider as you work to identify the role you want your brand to play in the lives of your customers.

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