Are You a Lover or a Fighter?

Published on Nov 06, 2015

Created for Seattle Startup Week 2018: An overview of 12 brand archetypes and how they can be used to clarify a brand's mission and message and inspire powerful storytelling.


Are You a Lover or a Fighter?

Finding Your North Star for Brand Storytelling

Catherine Carr   @mamatweeta   #ssw2018

Vitamin C Creative is a boutique brand and content consultancy.


  • Background & why
  • Crash course - 12 archetypes
  • Method
  • Examples

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This topic may feel like a BuzzFeed quiz, but it actually goes quite a bit deeper than which Halloween costume you should wear.


Archetype theory has deep roots, extending back to the work of Plato and, much later, Carl Jung.

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These storytelling archetypes have resonated intuitively throughout human history...

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...and transcend cultures.
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Joseph Campbell even applied them to Star Wars archetypes...
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Margaret Mark and Carol Pearson

And Margaret Mark and Carol Pearson applied the theory to brands in this book.

It's not a perfect book, but it is a useful reference for going deeper on this topic, and I certainly keep a marked-up copy on my desk.


So why is this helpful or worth considering?

Marty Neumeier - brand flip

  • Power has shifted from companies to customers.
  • People are not focused on products, but meaning.
  • Customers buy products to build their identities.
A few key points from another favorite brand reference, The Brand Flip.

Brand archetype theory is incredibly helpful for enriching your work with meaning and helping customers build their identities.

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It's a way of tapping into deep human needs, hopes, and desires.

Invent a new brand

It's certainly very helpful when a new brand is taking shape. It gives clarity and helps avoid the trap of everyone wanting to be just like Apple, Uber, or Airbnb.
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Clarify mission and message

Its also quite useful if your mission and your message have gotten muddled, which happens frequently.

Refocus and revitalize

It's a terrific tool for breathing new life into a tired brand...


...and providing deep inspiration for telling compelling brand stories.

the 12 Archetypes

A Crash Course
Here's a quick walkthrough of these 12 archetypes. I'll give you a few examples of well-known brands and local startups so you can get a sense of the range of each one.

A few things to keep in mind...

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All resonate at different times

None are better or worse than others. Certain ones might naturally resonate with you more strongly, but they are all powerful within the scope of human emotion.
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None are inherently positive or negative

There is a wide emotional range within each one. None are positive or negative within themselves.
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Don't get too hung up on the labels

You might also have reactions to the labels themselves, but don't get too hung up on those. These are deep behind the scenes ideas, and you never have to use the label itself anywhere if it doesn't work for you.
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Stability and Control

The archetypes in this quadrant help people feel safe.

1. Caregiver

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Volvo has carved out significant brand equity around the idea of safety.

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This idea can carry through to cleaning products which are good for people and the environment...

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...or to the food we eat and the farmers who grow it.
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2. Creator

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Poppin is one of my favorite Creator brands. They enliven basic boring desk supplies with bright color and appealing designs.

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Anthropologie is known for its incredibly creative window and store displays. I feel more creative just walking into the store.

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Locally, Theo chocolates treats each bar like an individual work of art. And you can go behind the scenes with a fun tour of the factory.
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3. Ruler

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Rolex taps into the ruler with the feeling of status and luxury as well as the crown imagery.
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Another expression of the Ruler is a feeling of societal order and harmony, like in this Ralph Lauren ad.

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Uber is a strong Ruler brand -- delivered both through the control you feel when you call the car and the emotional feeling of being in the back seat (especially the black car service when they first launched).

Independence and

The archetypes in this quadrant help people find happiness.
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5. Innocent

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Method is one of my favorite brands and although its bright colors may read as Creator, deep down I believe it draws from Innocent through its pure ingredients and the way it brings joy to household cleaning.

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Everlane is a new brand that embodies the Innocent archetype on a number of levels, from its transparent pricing and commitment to responsible sourcing to its minimalist styles.

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This is a local company I've worked with who works very hard to use only clean ingredients. I love the application of innocent archetype to a personal lubricant.

5. Sage

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NYT is what I would consider a traditional Sage brand, dedicated to spreading knowledge across a wide variety of subjects.
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In the realm of cooking, America's Test Kitchen has completely carved out this space with its emphasis on rigorous testing and data-driven results. The Sage ethos comes through in Christopher Kimball as well.

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Locally, I think PayScale has done an amazing job of building its brand through data, which illuminates insights and trends. They are so great at collecting, packaging, and promoting the rich data around pay and hiring practices.

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REI (and Patagonia) clearly trigger the Explorer archetype in their customers, encouraging them to hit the open road and explore the beauty of nature.
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Trader Joe's

Trader Joe's does the same thing in a very playful way through its expansive collection of exotic products, playful naming, and nautical details.

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Another brand operating in this space is Dogfish Head -- its founder literally travels the globe in search of creative and unique ingredients to feature in his series of interesting brews.

Risk and Mastery

The archetypes in this quadrant help people achieve.
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7. Hero

Photo by TK Hammonds

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The iconic hero brand is Nike, named for the Greek goddess of victory and offering the promise of feeling like a hero to every athlete.

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A completely different kind of organization is the nonprofit march of dimes, who works together to defend and protect the lives of babies born prematurely.

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Locally, Vicis is bringing tech innovation to sports helmets to protect the brains of athletes.

8. Magician

Photo by Krystal Ng

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The iconic magician brand is Disney -- the core idea at play here is transforming ordinary to extraordinary.

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Many beauty products trigger this archetype, including Olay.

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You can see that Tesla uses very similar imagery as Olay, actually. In this case, the magic is delivered through details like the way the car doors open and the way the cars can drive themselves (via software downloads that magically appear overnight).

9. Rebel

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The iconic Rebel brand is Harley Davidson.
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Locally, T-Mobile occupies this space very effectively, through its UN-CARRIER messaging, vibrant visuals, and charismatic CEO.


Also locally, Avvo communicates its desire to disrupt the traditional legal industry by featuring celebrity mug shots on its office carpet.

Belonging and Enjoyment

10. Lover

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The feeling here is luxury and indulgence. Haagen-Dazs is a great example.
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Nordstrom delivers a similar feeling in a retail environment. The details are beautifully treated, from fixtures to welcoming lounges and live piano music.
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Locally, if you compare Frans chocolates to Theo, you can see how Frans is more squarely in the luxury, sensory space. You can practically feel that gorgeous yellow satin ribbon.

11. Everyperson

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Everyperson is all about democratization and community. IKEA is a perfect example, making design accessible through its unique packaging and retail model.
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Locally, Crowd Cow taps into the same archetype, by making premium beef more affordable and accessible without the middleman. The sense of community is strengthened by the detail that the cow is "tipped" when all the cuts have been ordered, to ensue no waste.

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Another great local brand tapping into this archetype is MOD pizza, where every pizza costs the same no matter what toppings you select.

12. Jester

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The iconic Jester brand is Pepsi, which is all about joy and energy.

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Another vivid expression is Ben and Jerry's (compare to the feeling of Haagen-Dazs).
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And locally, nobody captures this better than Brooks with its wonderfully joyful Run Happy campaign. (Again, compare to Nike - the offering is similar but the feeling is completely different.)

Zooming Out

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Here are the 12 archetypes, all together. Here you can see that the quadrants balance each other -- the top (blue) is about stability and control, and the bottom (pink) is about change and energy. Left to right, the yellow is about community, and the green is about independence.

These underlying emotions are really important when identifying your own archetype.

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I like to teach the archetypes through cars. (It's worth noting that I've placed brands according to my own impressions and perceptions throughout -- there's no database where you can look this up, and these brands may or may not be using the archetypes intentionally.)

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Same map, using Seattle coffee shops. You can get a latte at any of these places, but the feeling is very different.

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Earlier in the week I sat in on the Purpose-Driven brands panel, and it struck me that even though all of the businesses featured had a strong sense of purpose, and were all in fashion and beauty, the emotional feeling was quite different among them.


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What would be expected in my category?

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One thing that's important to keep in mind is that certain categories have naturally strong associations -- for example, baby products tend to feel Caregiver; beauty products tend to feel Magician. It's good to be aware of this and also to explore some unexpected associations to stand out from the crowd.

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I bumped up against this issue when I first discovered archetype theory, when I worked for Hasbro following the acquisition of Cranium. I wrote about this on my blog:

What is the competition doing?

What you're really looking for is the wide open white space, where you can do something different from your competitors and tap into a unique emotion.

More about this on my blog:
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What feels true?

You of course also want your archetype to feel like a true expression of what you want your brand to be. It should feel authentic and comfortable like a great pair of sneakers.

What if it's hard to choose?

Zeroing in on one can be difficult; you'll often find yourself drawn to two or three. I used to let brands combine, but over time I have come to feel that it's much stronger to align around one and be aware of the influence of others as you develop brand voice.

More about this on my blog:

How deep do you want to go?

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Layers and levels

  • Mission/purpose
  • Voice/tone/vocabulary (Name)
  • Visuals
  • Product experience
  • Marketing
  • Culture
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case study 1

Block by Block

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Here's a case study of applying archetype theory as the grounding for a strong brand strategy.

For more about this organization, see

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The "competitive set" for a nonprofit is broad, but first we looked at how different nonprofits claim different emotional territory.

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We also mapped out the language the team used in their interviews and existing messaging to show the places where they were drawn.

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Block by Block is unique in that it's a partnership between the United Nations and Microsoft, who acquired Mojang, who makes Minecraft. Each of these entities had their own identities, and we wanted to balance the Ruler energy of UN and Microsoft with the Rebel spirit of Mojang in a way that felt right for Block by Block.

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We landed on Magician, with its emphasis on transformation (with a unique technology at the heart).

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You can see here how the Magician archetype informed the development of our positioning and messaging, capturing the ideas of transformation, technology as a catalyst, and continued momentum.

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It also informed how we presented the projects themselves -- here, we described the transformation of a deserted market into a vibrant skate park. The quote from a youth participant *sounds* magical - he can't really believe that his ideas were made real.

case study 2

Brook Health
The second example is local startup, who uses innovative tech to help people better manage their diabetes and other chronic health conditions.

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This was a very crowded competitive space -- during our review, we also noticed that the majority of the messaging was in the Ruler space; it was all about control, control, control.

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Again, we mapped the messaging from the team and other brand materials.

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Our inspiration really came from the interviews with partners and customers, however, who emphasized how easy it was to integrate Brook into their lives because of its exceptional mobile experience,

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the feeling of being able to participate in the development of something new,

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and the happiness they experienced when they saw results.

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We landed on Explorer, a very unique and unexpected archetype in this space, to capture this feeling of helping people suffering from chronic conditions rediscover their sense of self and fulfillment. The app takes up very little "space" in their lives, allowing them more time and energy to do the things they love to do.

This clarity also helped the team prioritize certain features like Q&A response time over, for example, developing a diabetes- related community, since the emotional feeling we wanted was actually about independence and not about community.

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The design firm suggested some very striking "Explorer" imagery -- not sure if the team will go that far....

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...but they are working on updating their imagery to capture more everyday "out and about" moments,

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..even ones like this, where the person is using their phone out in the world, not at home--like an everyday explorer.

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