The adventurous! The explorer, the rebel, the lover, the creator...

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Round 2: How brand archetypes can help focus your business storytelling...


So last time out, we took at look at the four archetypes most often associated with the basic, everyday self. This time, we’re going to go ‘out there’ a little more. The ‘Adventurous’ archetypes are perhaps more up for grabs, more of a chimera ripe for exploitation than the others. They are useful because they can be whatever you want them to be. That said, it’s as well to be aware of their power in the wrong hands! 

THE EXPLORER seeks adventure and discovery and thrill, is willing to take risks in order to live life on their own terms. 

It covers a spectrum from those seeking enlightenment and growth to out-and-out adrenaline junkies. The branding is pretty in your face, here. There is little room for pussyfooting about in grey areas. You are either an explorer or you aren’t. If you are, welcome to the club. So Explorer brands identify with excitement, danger, individuality, non-conformity (to a point!) and freedom. The downside? Well, recklessness, obviously. And think for a moment of the number of reactionary and extreme movements, ideas and organisations that contain the word ‘freedom’ in their title. Is it too reductive to argue that a litmus test of the explorer archetype is where you stand on gun ownership? Maybe, maybe not. And how many ‘Preppers’ might see themselves as explorers? Where is the line between exploration and alienation? 

It’s been said that explorer consumers are ‘not so in to marriage and mortgages’.  They’re also tricky to reach out to because almost by definition, they don’t really do the whole brand loyalty thing. If you are branding yourself as an explorer, you are going to have to be constantly on the move to maintain your relationship with your customer, who will necessarily be on the other end of a very long, flexible and elastic cord. Probably a bungee rope.

So aside from Smith & Wesson, what brands might we be talking about here? 

Anything outdoors-related, rugged, fearless, thrill-seeking and intrepid. Go-Pro, Jeep, Patagonia, North Face. Red Bull have built maybe the strongest and most identifiable brand around the archetype of the explorer. This is ironic, as outside of the adrenaline-fuelled, daring and dangerous adventures which drive their promos and sponsorship campaigns, most people still associate it as something to go with Vodka in order to keep you going till the clubs close. Never mind Go-Pro, go figure. Then there are the plastic explorers, those brands who reach out to people who would like to see themselves as ‘out there’ individuals but who are maybe a little too soft in the middle and too tied to their mortgages and responsibilities. But they can dream, can’t they? I’m looking at you, Timberland. 

THE REBEL: Here’s the thing about being a rebel. There’s a shelf life issue. You can’t be a rebel forever, because either your rebellion will fail and you will be destroyed, or it will succeed, in which case at some point you are going to become the new establishment. 

So yes, be wild, revel in revolution, freely break wind in the palaces of the mighty, give everything that came before the big finger. But enjoy it while it lasts, because it’s written in to the dna of the thing that it can’t last forever. So branding yourself as a rebel must necessarily be part of an evolutionary story. You’re a rebel now, but you won’t always be. There’s a very real risk that one  day, you’re going to be popular and successful. Then what? You need to start thinking about what comes next. Of course, one way around this is if your hold on consumer consciousness is so strong and your domination of the market so absolute that you can continue to promote yourself as a rebel outsider and no one is really going to argue; because the spell you cast is binding and seemingly endless. One word.  Apple.  

But for as long as you are in your rebel phase, what sort of brands are we talking about here?  

It’s interesting that a web trawl brings up surprisingly few. In fact, the same two come up time and again: Harley Davidson and Virgin, both of which for my money are about as rebellious as the Church of England - as it is now, not when it was formed. It was actually pretty rebellious then. But nothing lasts forever. See my point? Of the 12 archetypes, I’m not convinced that the rebel actually exists. A bit like the intrepid Timberland adventurer, we like to think that it does and that a bit of it exists inside all of us. And that’s fine. But if you are branding yourself as a wild revolutionary, just be aware that we’re all sort of in on the joke. 

THE LOVER: I don’t think that the lover archetype necessarily speaks to the thing we think it does at first. It’s not about that

In a world in which alienation is inexorable and so many of us feel cut adrift by the emphasis on individuality, it’s about connection. Looked at this way, it’s one of the most powerful brand archetypes around, in my opinion. No (wo)man is an island type thing. 

The Lover talks to relationships of all types as love takes many guises - parental, familial and as friendship. It can be about intimacy, companionship or just getting on. But let’s not kid ourselves, sex sells as we all know. So if an organisation decides to buy in to this archetype, more often than not, it’s the thing they’ll gun for. They’re just missing a whole bunch of tricks, is all. 

So, examples? 

Well any designer fragrance and / or cosmetic or couture fashion house, obviously. From Christian Dior to Gaultier to Chanel, even brands such as ‘Pink’ which deliberately target the younger, teenage girl demographic. You don’t have to understand it, you just have to feel it. You can throw in ‘sophisticated’ ice cream like Haagen-Dazs, any kind of red wine, high end travel and of course Victoria’s Secret. Look for words like ‘passion’ ‘connection’ and ‘intimate’. In pure storytelling terms, the UK Nescafe ‘Gold Blend’ instant coffee campaign of the 1990s keyed in to this dynamic and saw a 70 percent increase in sales during its lifetime. Used creatively, this archetype delivers. You just have to dare to do something different with it.

THE CREATOR: The contradiction at the heart of this archetype is maybe the most obvious of the 12. We’re talking the freedom to create and the need to control. 

It’s powered by the magic of conjuring something out of nothing and so treads on the toes of the Magician, obviously.  The creator is about the new, so we’re often talking about technology brands. The story being told about them will often be wondrous, cutting edge and all about possibility; they will compare the world of today with the world of what could be. So who will respond to this archetype? Frankly, it’s quite often high-end snobs who really don’t mind being seen as high-end snobs, quite the opposite. They see themselves as innovators and early adopters and as such they’re better than you, so couldn’t give a monkeys what you think about them. The potential unlikeability and profound narcissism of this archetype is the elephant in the room and as a brand you have an early decision to make about whether you address it, counter it or revel in it. Visionary, storyteller, artist? Or ego-centric dick-wipe hell bent on world domination? Does it all have to come as a package? There are some who would nail Ikea in this category, others who would laugh you out of the room at the very idea. 

More broadly, the creator archetype covers a line-up of those you’d expect: 

Apple, Sony, Bang & Olufson, Google, Amazon, Facebook and Microsoft, even smaller brands out to help you organize your life, like Mail Chimp. 

So there you have the four ‘Adventurers’. Next time we’ll round out our brief journey through the wonderful and whacky world of brand archetypes  with a look at the remaining four, the enigmatic quartet of the Jester, the Sage, the Magician and the Ruler. See you then!