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What are brand archetypes? Part 1 – The Ruler, the Hero and the Outlaw

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No. 6 Image Brand archetypes p.1

For a brand to be successful, a strong identity is key. In order to build it effectively, it needs to be based on an easily understandable and relatable pattern. This can be achieved by using archetypes – a framework once created by psychologist Carl Gustav Jung and popularised in the marketing world by Margaret Mark and Carol S. Pearson in their book “The Hero and the Outlaw”.

As a marketing tool, archetypes make lives of brand professionals easier. Like any typology, they organise reality and add structure to it, also bringing brand narration to life and helping to create engaging brand stories. The reason why brand archetypes are often chosen over other brand classifications is because they are believed to be already embedded in our collective consciousness. We are all familiar with the archetypes because they have always been present in our lives  through the stories told in books, movies, fairy tales or legends, often constructed in a similar way, presenting similar types of characters. Even if we were not aware of their existence, we could easily identify certain patterns and qualities. That’s the main reason why brands, which are rooted in 1 of 12 archetypes, tend to be more appealing – we simply know what to expect from them and can easily imagine what values they offer.

Although many brands don’t use archetypes consciously, almost any brand strategy can be assigned to 1 or 2 of them depending on the archetypal patterns that they display. In this new series, we will be analysing all 12 brand archetypes, and taking a look at which famous brands have had success with them.

The first brand archetypes, which we will examine are the Ruler, the Hero and the Outlaw. Though very different, they have certain characteristics in common. They are bold, powerful and self-confident. The brands based on one of these three archetypes typically believe they are better equipped than others in some respect – the Ruler thinks it’s simply the best, Hero is on a mission to achieve something others can’t, while the Outlaw wants to change the world.

The Ruler

The Ruler is an archetype often used by brands, which are the leaders in their industries and which want to communicate exactly that. They are superior to their competition, the best, the biggest, the most popular and want to make it clear to their potential consumers. They are driven by power, crave control, and are confident in their ability to rule.

Ruler brands are able to create meaningful connections with the customers, who admire their polished image and ultimately want the best of the best. Their products are seen as being of a higher class to that of their competitors, and make the customer feel like they’re one step ahead of their peers. However, if not properly managed, they can come across as authoritative, controlling or entitled – many bank brands have fallen into this trap.

A textbook example of a brand based on the Ruler archetype is Mercedes-Benz. It promises “the best or nothing” and has become a synonym of the highest quality, luxury and class; everything that the brand’s customers desire. A less talked about example of a brand, which employs the Ruler brand strategy in a subtler manner, using also elements of the Jester archetype, is Heineken. The brand positions itself as the most international premium beer in the world “enjoyed in 192 countries” and “a progressive and innovative leader“, emphasising its popularity and dominance in the market.

The Hero

The Hero can often be mistaken with the Ruler as they both demonstrate a few similar qualities: power and self-confidence above all. The Hero, however, is more courageous than controlling. The Hero is a winner, an achiever and gets things done in an effective manner, in their mission to improve the world. On a good day, the Hero is brave and determined, but catch them on a bad day and they can be arrogant and aggressive.

The brands based on this archetype are often innovative and their strong image is backed up with an array of helpful, useful products and services which go above and beyond. Their customers want quality and efficiency, and can put their trust in the Hero brands – known for delivering on their promises.

An obvious example of a Hero brand is Nike, which believes that everyone can overcome their weaknesses to achieve greatness. Nike’s villains include laziness and procrastination, and the brand is on a mission to “bring inspiration and innovation to every athlete in the world” optimistically assuming that if you have a body, you’re an athlete.

Another example of a Hero brand is Amazon, though many marketing publications refer to it as an Explorer (apart from the association with the greatest river in the world in its name, there’s not much of the Explorer in Amazon’s brand equity). What Amazon does have though, is plenty of Hero qualities, with their customer-obsessed approach to delivering convenience, low prices and an excellent selection of products. Amazon gets its job done quickly, effectively and to their customers’ high standards.

The Outlaw

The Outlaw brands, also called challenger brands, don’t like the world as it is and want to change it. They question the status quo, are not afraid to break the rules, and want to disrupt the usual expectations. If something isn’t working, The Outlaw will destroy it. If they want revenge, they will take it. If they want to start a revolution, they will just do it.

The Outlaw brands are outrageous, rebellious and they want to shock. They don’t stick to industry conventions, they introduce a new attitude and let their customers know that it’s acceptable not to be a sheep in society.

Harley-Davidson is a prime example of an edgy brand delivering its customers a product that sets them apart, encouraging uniqueness and allowing them to express themselves. The brand’s aim is to enable independence, excitement and adventure by “fulfilling dreams of personal freedom“. Tattoos, beards, leather jackets and patches are all what makes up Harley-Davidson’s unmistakable style, which appeals to their customers’ more rebellious side. Experimentation is key, and the more non-conformist and different, the better.

Rebel of the media world, Vice is another Outlaw. Vice is not afraid to cover unpopular, more controversial topics that other traditional media outlets would usually avoid. It’s confident about flaunting its rebellious, provocative style and is proud about not sticking to the ‘norm’ of mass-media storytelling.

In the next article, we will cover the brand archetypes that help build a warmer and more human brand image –  the Caregiver, the Innocent and the Regular Guy. If you want to know more examples of brands based on different types of archetypes, go to BrandStruck, where all brand strategy analyses have 1 or 2 archetypes assigned to them. 

Read part 2.

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Magda Adamska is the founder of BrandStruck.

BrandStruck ithe only online database of brand strategy case studies.
This is a tool that is dedicated to brand and marketing professionals, allowing them to better understand the positioning of the world’s most admired brands, the similarities and differences between them and to learn more about certain categories.

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