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The dark side of archetypes in branding: exploring the value of the shadow

Updated: Dec 30, 2020

I’m an advocate of envisioning the desired outcome. Tell me how you want it to be, not what you don’t. Focus on the positive. As you think, so shall you travel.

But… and I’m usually not a fan of that word because it tends to negate that which came before it. But… sometimes being able to know where you’re headed is muddled by not really knowing where you are. And that muddling usually creates an uncertainty of what needs to change. You may only know that what is happening isn’t working. Of course, “it” applies to many circumstances, ranging from the personal to the professional and everywhere in between.

Understanding why “it” isn’t working can springboard you toward knowing where you want to get. This may require taking a more in-depth look at the dark side of our behaviors, what Carl Jung called ‘the shadow.’ Unfortunately the shadow has gotten a bad rap by those determined to see the world through a black-and-white or right-and-wrong lens. The shadow is not necessarily evil, but there is a dominant meme that labels it as bad. The German writer, Ruth Renkel, offered wise counsel, “Never fear shadows. They simply mean there’s a light shining somewhere nearby.

Because of the natural tendency to externalize our inner conflicts by blaming or demonizing “the other,” most people deny their shadow. They unconsciously project their shadow onto others so they can avoid confronting it themselves. But in doing so, we miss out on our own learning and ultimately sacrifice not only our own goals but our freedom and agency as well. All of this may be a long way round to introducing a topic that has been fascinating me for years: how to learn from the shadow, what we might learn in contradistinction.

In the book, Archetypes in Branding: A Toolkit for Creatives and Strategists, I intentionally avoided including what might be experienced as shadow archetypes. The Vampire. The Destroyer. The Prostitute. The Victim. The Saboteur. The Siren. The Don Juan. The Manipulator. I didn’t see any need to emphasize the shadow as aspirational archetypes for brands. However, I did list the challenges that each of the 60 included archetypes might experience or demonstrate. I think it’s time to unpack those challenges, or shadows.

The shadow is part of our humanity. The challenge is to get to know it without pointing the finger and judging it as bad or wrong. What can we learn from shadows? It is my hope with this series to open that conversation with the archetypal community. Using a branding lens, it is my intention to explore the shadow of a different archetype every other week: its fears, motivations and impacts. Perhaps our awareness of the shadow is actually a hopeful sign.

Jung said that there are an unlimited number of archetypes, so if you’re keen to look at a specific archetype, let me know. I’ll do my best to work it in. Coming up next time: "Shadows of The Explorer and the American Dream"

Stay curious!

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