For over two decades, many consultants and agencies have encouraged managers and marketers to leverage archetypal meaning to strengthen their brands. The idea that when a brand taps into one specific archetype, it can trigger associations, universal patterns and emotional responses that influence consumer behaviour. Archetypes, the theory says, help brands connect with customers on a more human and emotional level. They give brand’s stronger personalities and make what they say more engaging, believable or distinct.
However, although research on the use of archetypes in marketing has been very limited, increasingly concerns have been raised about a lack of managerial usefulness and the applicability of the concept, and recent evidence seems to suggest that the single archetype view may have lost its relevance.
Archetypes in marketing have their roots in psychology. However, in the two decades that have passed since Mark and Pearson’s seminal work in identifying 12 primary archetypes, several challenges have emerged. First, the concept of brand archetypes has attracted criticism, especially from those who are supposed to implement it, for lacking contemporary relevance and practicality in the real world. There’s a perception that the concept is impractical and outdated, and that managers do not really know what to do with it. The 12 archetypes, according to some, are about as useful to managers as the 12 zodiac signs and should be retired.
It is no surprise that scholars such as MacInnis and Folkes (2017) have called for further studies, noting that, “Current research on the role of brand archetypes is limited, making this area a fruitful one for understanding how consumers perceive, connect with and form relationships with brands in human-like ways”.
A second concern is that while the theory has long dictated that brand identities are most effective when they identify strongly with one, and only one, archetype, there is a growing sense that this no longer applies in a fractured, multi-layered world of consumer/brand interactions and interfaces. The analogy that has been often used to describe a brand that evokes multiple archetypes is that of someone afflicted by multiple personality disorder or dissociative identity disorder. The term ‘brand schizophrenia’ is sometimes used. However, an alternative view is that brands can - and do - successfully blend different archetypes. In fact, recent research has shown that strong brands often evoke multiple archetypes at the same time: According to Wertime (2002), “Strong brands often harmonize multiple subconscious elements” and, “The decision about which archetype(s) to associate with a brand provides plenty of room for creativity and requires the company to think about how the archetypes will work in combination”.
Carl Jung said, “Those who do not realise the special feeling tone of the archetype end with nothing more than a jumble of mythological concepts, which can be strung together to show that everything means anything – or nothing at all."