Re-igniting brands by leveraging archetypes

Nov 20, 2020 | Publications

Reigniting brands by archetypes _2

Covid-19 has unleashed a new reality across the world. Our comfortable, familiar and taken-for-granted life has been taken away, leaving us perplexed and in a prolonged moment of contemplation.

The pandemic given rise to a realization that we are all part of a grand and complex system which has turned out to be unexpectedly fragile.

It seems to have challenged systems and institutions, that have till now have been pillars of trust and authority. It is our belief that in such periods of heightened uncertainty, people instinctively look for keys to unlock patterns that resemble the familiar, giving them a map to navigate disorder and arrive at a semblance of congruency.

At this juncture, it is imperative for businesses & brands to create this bridge between chaos & order. In specific, they must ask these crucial questions: • How might brands address crises for people living in this new reality? • What can brands do to resolve new Covid-led tensions? • How to reinstate a sense of stability in an unstable world?


As consumers visualize a new reality during & post Covid-19, their aim is to create new thought patterns & behaviours that make sense of disruption and provide new ways of engaging with this unfamiliar but here-to-stay reality. Brands have always played mediator between consumer aspirations & their anxieties, by resolving key pain points through products & communication. How must brands respond at this juncture?

Archetypes are a collectively inherited set of unconscious ideas, that are universally present in individual psyches. The concept of Archetypes originated in Plato’s concept of ideals and patterns. In the mid-1900’s psychologist Carl Jung took Plato’s thinking a step further and developed “psychological archetypes” defined as: “characteristic patterns that pre-exist in the collective psyche of the human race (regardless of the culture or historical period) that repeat themselves eternally in the psyche of individual human beings and determine the basic ways that we perceive and function as psychological beings.”

The premise being, people come into the world with patterns of instinctual behaviour waiting to be developed, awakened and explored.

CHALLENGE AND ARCHETYPAL RESPONSE When we examine the 12 archetypes, we discover that they cluster in sets of three to fulfil four basic human needs. This is represented in the chart below:

Brands operate as heuristic devices that lead to effective decision making. Despite an indication of this relationship between brand and consumer being mostly transactional, there is merit in considering that long term brand building must also focus on crafting an Ethos & personality that feeds into the consumer’s psyche in a meaningful manner.

In order to strengthen this brand – buyer relationship, there is a need to tether communication & brand narrative to a source point that is fundamental to how consumers think and behave. Archetypes are useful when considering their mythic qualities and possess an ability to tap into deep spiritual & mystical connections. Successful brands, intentionally or not, are ascribed with certain attributes, values & visuals that fit within the archetype grid. For example: Who would not think of Apple as the epitome of Mastery and their ecosystem as all powerful.

It is our belief that in times like these, the importance of the archetype becomes more pronounced because there is a need for people to cling to what is instinctively familiar. There is an eternal and enduring quality within archetypes which businesses must leverage when addressing consumers.

There is a tendency among marketers to assume that only a few archetypes might be relevant during this crisis. It is assumed that the crisis the consumer faces can only be addressed by archetypes such as the Hero, Sage, Caregiver, Ruler or Magician.

However, it is our view that archetypes represent eternal human truths and values that are timeless and reside in our unconscious mind. All twelve archetypes would help to restore meaning, but differently. Thus, for the same crisis the voice and manifestation of each archetype would be different. This can be amplified by inviting consumers to appreciate the unique perspective each archetype highlights to resolve tensions.

It is important to remind ourselves that a brand’s archetype has the potential to create the brand’s purpose in a deeper manner versus applying it purely to the brand’s personality. Brand personality when informed by archetypal values can be coherent and ring true, but when imbued more deeply, it is likely to survive for generations and even travel across cultures.


Using Margaret Mark and Carol Pearson’s seminal work on archetypes and branding (The Hero & the Outlaw; McGraw Hill; 2001) we will demonstrate how each archetype can deal with the Covid crisis.

It is critical that marketers do not rush to alter their brand’s DNA to solve emerging crises but understand how their brand’s archetype needs to be activated and presented to be true to its DNA.

KEY ISSUE The world as we knew it, from the point of view of human well-being and stability, has changed dramatically. The virus has posed a threat to us and has enforced a complete shutdown of life, business and social interactions across the world. All institutions, activities and indeed, cosmology – both religious or scientific, that have sustained life and have given it meaning have their credibility challenged, thus, disturbing their ability to restore Nomos or order.

The sense of chaos and anomie is strong, creating anxiety and a potential loss of everyday meaning. We do not know whether businesses, world economies and stock markets will stagger or recover shortly; whether social isolation will become a new normal or if new ways of connecting and building affinity will replace social interactions as we always knew them. Creating a medicalised discourse around the virus that underscores fatality has also led to a loss of control and a loss of wellbeing.

In a nutshell, humanity is in lockdown mode while death roams free.

Let us examine this crisis from the perspective of consumers. What are consumers seeking when their sense of reality and order has been disturbed and there is a resultant loss of meaning? What reassurances are they seeking when neither the sacred nor the scientific canopy is able to re-assure them sufficiently anymore?

Clearly consumers are seeking order, structure, predictability and control.

They are seeking a new meaning system that redefines reality, relationships, ways of living, conducting business. They are seeking a new understanding of the place of the individual in this new reality.

How various archetype sets are likely to speak to create a restoration of meaning

For the Creator, Caregiver and the Ruler the key task would be to re-establish control and stability through a new definition of order.

The Ruler archetype would create new pathways of knowledge and rules that would define a new order: thereby enhancing the consumer experience of stability and nomos. The consumer is reassured that the ruler brand has his/her back and knows how this new reality is to be navigated.

The Caregiver, by contrast would create the stability and control by enhancing personal and familial security based on the new rules of the new order. Here it could be adherence to social distancing or enhanced hygiene rituals or enhanced wellbeing from providing the ideal diet, foods or promoting a protective lifestyle.

The Creator’s role in underscoring stability and control would be to provide innovative solutions for every threat that seems to destroy one’s sense of stability and meaning. Creator brands would empower consumers with new ways of doing things and navigating the new reality.

The shadow side of this set is the risk of rigidity, inflexibility and totalitarianism because the new set of rules may become non-negotiable. Or that the new reality discriminates against sections of society that do not conform to the new order. There could also be the risk of an overly medicalised discourse being imposed to control what is seen as a threat and an unknown aspect of the virus.

The Regular guy, the Jester and the Lover would deal with the crisis of meaning by emphasising the need to not lose one’s sense of fun, pleasure and community as we navigate a new order. The Covid threat creates fear and helplessness that forces the consumer to look at everything with jaundiced eyes. The fear of fatality, the medicalisation of the discourse, the inability of science to provide solutions all create a rigid set of rules and rituals that weaken the sense of “communitas”. As a result, the sense of order and meaning is fractured as humans are forced to isolate, keep their distance and to abjure all normal social rituals that are the fabric of daily life.

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The Lover archetype, for instance, would focus on the importance of enjoying the present situation created by the crisis through new rituals and experiences with one’s loved ones. Despite a new normal, the fabric of meaning that stems from community and relationships is not ripped apart but kept together.

The Regular guy creates meaning by being the solid citizen who helps the community to rebuild in the new reality. He does this by espousing practical and sensible values that cement communities together. He underscores the fact that Covid is the great leveler and that we are all in it together and hence the solutions should be available to all at the macro and micro level.

The Jester recreates meaning by being the devil’s advocate, the mirror that reflects the fault lines and the abuse of power that is likely in the construction of a new reality. He also lightens up the despair being felt by the flux and change. He forces the rule makers to take cognisance of their rigidity and inflexibility.

The shadow side of these archetypes would be the fear of becoming too obsessive, overly rational, hyper-critical and dismissive of the reality as it presents itself.

For the Hero, the Outlaw and the Magician the recreation of meaning comes from seizing each risk and challenge to become an opportunity and a potential for transformation and real change. The virus is not viewed as a calamity but as a catalyst of change. All these archetypes work at the level of provoking the individual to consider a transformation and also provoke others to be part of the change. They would probably see these times of crisis to be alchemic and magical and the power of the problem becomes the impetus for real change and real meaning. This set of archetypes does not have a nostalgic link with what has passed but are seeking a better tomorrow.

From the Hero’s perspective Covid becomes the challenge and a cause for creating a better and more sustainable world. A world of higher purpose. The Hero would urge consumers to fight the battle with courage and confidence. He would project and will togetherness as a family, community and country to win this war and evolve to a better place.

The Outlaw would use the challenge to urge us to break old rules so that new ones are more egalitarian and inclusive and create the necessary societal transformation. This is the beginning of the change. The virus is not the enemy, it is the catalyst of change. The need is to fight and stand up for the right cause now; if we don’t fight back now, we perhaps never will provoke ourselves or provoke others around us to move towards a new reality.

The Magician, by contrast, will seek to encourage consumers to use the reality of the crisis as a moment of change, as an alchemic moment that transforms both our inner and outer lives for the better. The watershed moment to introspect about better ways of living, consuming, interacting with families and loved ones, ways of working, and ways of being.

The shadow side of this set would be the fear of becoming too arrogant, a vigilante and manipulative.

The Innocent, the Explorer and the Sage, each archetype in this set envisions a new reality and the establishment of new meaning as the perfect world from their own perspective.

For the Innocent the post-Covid reality will be one that needs to be close to Utopia: a better world, one that does not have the problems and dysfunctionalities of the pre-Covid world. A more sustainable and egalitarian world.

For the Sage the call will be to re-assure the consumer to stand above their fears and emotions and view their current sufferings as a gateway to a new resolve that will give rise to a more balanced future. The Sage will position the new reality as an opportunity to create a balance between new knowledge systems and new ways of living and consuming.

The Explorer is likely to talk about new horizons and new experiences that will promise freedom and liberation from a world that appears corrupted and debased due to Covid and other threats. The creation of a new normal would be based on a new imagination which could be a more AI generated world that is networked differently and creates meaning using new paradigms of reality, relationships and living. It could also be an inner exploration that raises critical questions about how the future can be shaped.

The shadow side of this set would be naiveté, aimlessness and becoming too opinionated and self-absorbed.


Let us consider a few brands and their specific messages which leveraged their archetypes well during this period.

Looking at Patagonia and the manner in which the brand behaves, its founder, Yvon Chouinard, has been talking about voting the assholes out for several years and by “assholes,” he means “politicians from any party who deny or disregard the climate crisis and ignore science.” Such empowering rhetoric is strongly reminiscent of being an ‘outlaw’ that encourages us to break rules to make way for a new, transformative society.

Coca Cola continues to leverage its archetypal values of ‘innocence’ extremely well during this period of crisis. Coca-Cola’s COVID-19 Film calls on the human race to regain its ‘Faith in Humanity’. Coca-Cola has adapted one of its most famous Spanish-language ads, created by Martín Mercado in 2002 to address the Argentinian Great Depression, as a statement of strength and unity against Covid-19. Both communications espouse the message of celebrating and rethinking togetherness, a call to unity, and be inspired with hope and idyllic positivity.

Nike showed its support for social distancing and isolation with a twitter post message: “If you ever dreamed of playing for millions around the world, now is your chance. Play inside, play for the world.” with #playinside, #playfortheworld. An additional caption accompanying the post read: “Now more than ever, we are one team.” which reflected an ‘regular guy/girl’ archetype value. These messages were generally relatable and well received.

While there is nothing wrong with its message, and is clearly sensible, a slightly different message could have hit the values and tone of its brand archetype as the hero. This is not to disregard the many other efforts such as a commitment of more than $15 million to support Covid-19 response efforts.

Nonetheless, imagine for a moment, if the message was about a call to action, not putting the spotlight on staying at home, but an acknowledgement and encouragement of those who choose to fight as frontline workers, volunteers, community organizers. Such a message could have celebrated digging deep for courage to fight for a higher cause.


Despite lifting lockdowns & easing of restrictions, there is an argument to be made for people feeling disoriented and self-doubting their otherwise instinctive trust of deep-rooted beliefs & institutions. Our contention is for brands to leverage our understanding of the collective subconscious to build long term brand relationships, in an era where consumer context might appear fractured.

A quick browse of global brands also indicates a tendency to rely on tried and tested archetypes such as Hero, Sage, Caregiver, Ruler or Magician. We implore brand custodians to look through the full spectrum of archetypes before activating their brand as all archetypes have the ability to connect with the psyche in a deep & meaningful way rather than a few.

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