Pulling Back the Curtain


After receiving numerous inquiries about the organization and hierarchy of the families in the book, Archetypes in Branding, it felt like the right time to try to pull back the curtain a bit and share what went into that process.

I’m sure practitioners frequently run into a variety of naming conventions being applied to brand archetypes. Some have characterized the qualities of the Ruler or Sovereign as The Leader. The Magician could be known as The Wizard. I’ve seen the Sage replaced by the Intellectual. In fact, I’ve started compiling a database of these alternatives to share on our website. I’m affectionately calling it the AKA (also known as) Dictionary.

It has been surprising to experience the range of reactions to not only the naming shifts used in the book, but also to hear Mark & Pearson’s set of twelve endowed with being the Jungian set. Jung himself allows for an unlimited number of archetypes, “There are as many archetypes as there are typical situations in life.” (C.G. Jung, The Concept of the Collective Unconscious). The application of archetypes in branding is an extension of Jung’s work, and it is dynamic and evolving.

As an alchemist, I see these variations as neither right or wrong but as a linguistic and semiotic soup of the most rich and delicious of ingredients. In many ways we could say that these archetypal names are all just metaphors (as it has been asserted by George Lakoff that all language is metaphor). We imbue these metaphors with meaning based on our individual and collective cultures. So the specificity of the naming can add another layer of understanding and resonance. We just have to be careful that we’re not inadvertently perpetuating stereotypes or straying too far into personas. James Geary, the author of I is an Other, says, “Metaphor is not just the detection of patterns; it is the creation of patterns.” Our usage of the metaphor actually changes it as well.

It was from this place that I wanted to challenge practitioners in the brand space by shifting the fundamental heads of the families. I changed the Outlaw to the Rebel based on the subtle reinforcement of my belief in the non-acceptability of lawlessness. I changed the Ruler to the Sovereign based on the subtle reinforcement that leadership is less about domination and more about a precious responsibility. And as far-fetched as it may sound, I changed the Regular Guy/Gal to the Citizen inspired by the Nobel Laureate, Elinor Ostrom’s work debunking the tragedy of the commons, as well as the book, The True Patriot, by Eric Liu and Nick Hanauer. The underlying idea was to reframe the value of the Citizen by reclaiming it as aspirational, universal and cool. If practitioners were going to continue to limit their use of archetypes to a set of twelve, I wanted to provoke a different kind of conversation.

There were other decisions made for different reasons as well. The Regular Guy/Gal became the Everyman due to a tussle about the design aesthetic. For the same reason The Renaissance Wo/Man became The Generalist. In hindsight, there is a case to be made for a reorganization of the families. I would move the Shaman to the Magician family. I would move the Engineer to the Sage family. I would move the Ambassador to the Caregiver Family and the Guardian to the Sovereign family. We have plans to expand on the deck as well, e.g. The Revolutionary, The Geek/Nerd, The Hipster, the Connoisseur, The Sensualist etc. I’d love to hear what archetypes others have used or run across that could have been included in the deck.

At the heart of the use of archetypes however lies the power of developing a unique brand character, one that is true and clear and resonant with the behaviors, processes, mission and values of the company. The hope in expanding on Mark & Pearson’s twelve was to offer practitioners access to greater nuance, sophistication and layering in their brand and culture building.

What was that? Could you speak up?