Archetypes & Insight: Finding Your Brand’s Emotional Space

The article is written by Barbra Wright, Director of Consumer Brand Identity and Packaging at Dragon Rouge, London

For decades marketers have been using Archetype theory to better understand their brand personality and character and thus to shape their communications by pinning the characteristics of the brand around one, well-understood, character archetype.

The Archetypal characters are formed from unconscious, recurring patterns and images that appear in mythology and story telling. By using universally recognised character types the Archetypes can help to define brand character clearly. We recognise and respond to them unconsciously. The subconscious is hardwired to make quick emotional connections through complex perceptual processes. Neuroscientific evidence shows that our decision-making processes are more emotionally driven than previously thought. Through his ground breaking neuroscientific research, Antonio Damsio has proven that, “a brain that cannot feel cannot make up its mind.”

By using Archetypes to root brand communication we create an emotional landscape for consumers to interact and engage with in a powerful, motivating way. Carl Jung lyrically said “The archetypal image embodies a powerful emotion which is expressed in its age-old form. If one understands the art of touching upon the archetypal images, one plays with the souls of men as with chords of a piano.” Furthermore, when brands are true to themselves they help us to feel and be true to ourselves. The Archetype guides “true to self” brand behaviour and counters “brand schizophrenia.”

There are different Archetype sets and methodologies in circulation, the most often sited is created by Carol Pearson and rooted in Jungian theory. It contains a set of 12 archetypes: The Hero, The Creator, The Explorer, The Outlaw, The Jester, The Lover, The Caregiver, The Everyman, The Innocent, The Ruler, The Sage and The Magician.

Each Archetype is broken down into essential characteristics that help to guide brand behaviour by illustrating:

  • What they care about
  • How they behave
  • How you would describe them
  • Things they would never be or do

So for example, Nike becomes a Hero brand by being powerful, strong, bold, combative, encouraging, sharp and dynamic. It is committed to achievement, mastery and performance. It takes on tough challenges and is determined and resilient. It would never be weak or soft or static. Similar examples can be made for all the other archetypes and this can be a very useful way of understanding brand character.

We’ve used this theory before but our thinking has evolved and we find this didactic mapping of archetype theory onto brands can throw up confusion. The most common challenges we find are:

  • 12 is a lot. Sometimes it is hard to settle on one
  • Academia can get in the way of commercial application
  • It can be challenging to accommodate change e.g. Apple used to be a Rebel and now it’s a Hero… or was it the other way around?
  • Difficulties can arise when trying to give clear visual direction for design and communication
  • Sometimes Archetypes are used as a substitute for imagination
  • The prescriptive nature of the Archetype definitions, detracts from emotional fluency and creates stereotypical thinking

We want to make their application simpler and more meaningful.

Our developed methodology builds Archetype theory into a simpler framework that is brand management oriented and effectively maps across category and consumer (emotional) need states by creating intelligent, actionable and emotionally engaging brand communication and design direction.

We call it the Emotional Space model. And this is how it works:

We took the 12 Archetypes and we scripted their core desire in one word. The single most important driving emotion for each of them.  We then looked for emotional words that would encapsulate the core desires. We arrived at eight: Discovery, Revolution, Enjoyment, Achievement, Influence, Authority, Belonging, Nurture. We used these words to create an Emotional Space model.

In which the red-tone boxes are more outward / uplifting emotions and the blue-tone boxes are more inward / grounded emotions. Each Emotional Space has core characteristics that root back into the Archetype theory they were born out of.

Against each space we created a visual planning board that brings to life the visual territory, executional characteristics and the breadth of each emotion: Achievement may be about winning an Olympic race, or it may be about baking a cake for your Mum on her birthday – all by yourself.

So why did we turn Archetypes into Emotional Spaces? It’s simple really.

You are not born a hero. 

You become a hero because you’re stuck on achievement.

Before you define your character, you choose your path. 

You make a commitment to a charter and in so doing, you build your character.

Brands grow into archetypes out of emotional spaces. Not the other way around.

You may want to Archetype your brand – or you could just lever it’s emotional impact.


About the Author

Barbra Wright is Director of Consumer Brand Identity and Packaging at Dragon Rouge, London. In her career that spans over 12 years, Barbra brings a wealth of experience working on strategic and brand projects with clients including PepsiCo, Colgate, Nestlé Rowntree, Sainsbury’s, Shell, Danone, Unilever, Heinz, GSK and Vodafone.