Ever notice that certain brands make you feel a certain way? That’s not accidental. Companies use psychology in branding – better known as Archetypes – to create an emotional bond that drives connection, likeability and loyalty. Here’s how it works, and how it can work for your brand.
Ever notice how Harley Davidson can automatically make you feel a bit bad? Devious, mischievous, even rebellious?
Or how that American Express card in your wallet makes you feel a bit…taller? More confident?
Coca-Cola might make you feel suddenly lighthearted, more carefree; like it’s time for a break.
Or put on those new Nikes, and suddenly you’re more energized, almost invincible in the face of a tough workout.
Isn’t it interesting? These brands connected to emotions.
Why is that so? Aren’t we just talking about products?
Psychology to Create Connection
The science of why people buy what they buy is complex, and “need” is just one factor of many in the equation. Nuanced research shows that people buy based on emotion and how we feel about the product or brand. Then we rationalize our purchase decisions with facts or functional benefits (Tesla: “well, it gets 45 miles per gallon.” or Starbucks: “their coffee beans and almond milk are organic.”).
For these reasons, many brands seek to build an emotional connection with their customer base. Emotional connection builds a stronger bond, shortens the purchase cycle and makes their product the more likely and obvious choice. And one of the most powerful ways to do this is to use psychology in branding: archetypes.
The study of archetypes came about from Carl Jung (a student of Freud’s), who in 1917 codified 12 main archetypes – motifs that appear throughout art, history, literature and culture – as universal symbols that powerfully reflect our humanity back to us.
When we encounter a story that has a familiar archetype – say, the coming-of-age adolescent who must grow up quickly on his/her own – we are subconsciously reminded of our own childhood experiences when we were in a similar situation, and as a result, we become vested in the outcome of the story, and bond unconsciously with the protagonist. As an example: David and Goliath; Jacob and the Coat of Many Colors, Huckleberry Finn; Romeo & Juliet; Hansel & Gretel; Beauty & The Beast; Dumbo; Elsa in Frozen; Dory in Finding Nemo, and countless more: in each of these stories, the character suddenly becomes intimately familiar to us. We are reminded of our own experiences and how we acted and reacted in the face of similar challenges. This recall bonds us to the protagonist and story, and we become emotionally vested in the outcome; we’re hooked.
Archetypes in Branding
Archetypes have been around for thousands of years but only started to become popular in branding in the 50s and 60s, as brands sought to draw closer emotional connections with consumers. Advertisers realized that brands that express these archetypes can – and do – create deeper positive feelings with their customers.
Here are some brands and their archetypes:
The Innocent – CocaCola, Snuggle
The Sage – TED, Harvard, The Economist
The Explorer – North Face, JEEP
The Rebel – Harley Davidson
The Magician – Intel, Disney
The Hero – Nike, The Marines
The Lover – Victoria’s Secret, Godiva
The Jester – Cheetos, BudLight, Geico
The Citizen – Levi’s, Ikea
The Caregiver – J&J, Nivea, Tom’s Shoes
The Sovereign – American Express, Rolex
The Creator – Apple, LEGO
Example Archetype in Action: The Innocent
You might be thinking “okay, but how does psychology in branding play out, exactly?” So I’ll ask you to think back to your childhood, to your best childhood memories: maybe it’s playing outside, or riding a roller coaster; the weather is probably warm, the sun is shining; there are friends and laughter and balloons; there’s happiness, a lightness, and life seems simple and uncomplicated; for a minute you can take a break and just float your worries away.
This is the memory Coca-Cola strives for in their communications, with their use of The Innocent archetype as a means to create a more carefree, fun and happy brand. Consider that their most recent advertising campaign is entitled “Unbottle happiness.” And here are the words from their popular jingle coined in 1971:
I’d like to build the world a home
And furnish it with love
Grow apple trees and honey bees
And snow white turtle doves.
I’d like to teach the world to sing
In perfect harmony
I’d like to buy the world a Coke
And keep it company.
Archetypes Strengthen Your Connection with Customers
Archetypes can be powerful emotional connectors for your brand and can deepen the bond you have with your customers; they can shorten the customer journey and build trust and likeability faster. How to use psychology in branding to your advantage?
First, determine your brand’s archetype. A brand strategist can help you with this exercise, or you can try and ascertain your archetype by yourself (there are a few books on archetypal analysis that I can recommend: The Outlaw and The Hero by Margaret Mark and Carol Pearson, and Archetypes in Branding by Margaret Hartwell and Joshua C. Chen. There are also some online quizzes to help you crack your company’s archetype). You’ll want to explore your brand story origin, your values and purpose for clues about your archetype.
You’ll also want to determine how and to what extent the archetype shows up in your brand. Some brands allude to the archetype in their logo and color selection; others use it as their voice to come through in communications. Some brands rely heavily on their archetype in messaging (Harley Davidson, Victoria’s Secret, Nike); others are more subtle (Microsoft is the Ruler; Salesforce is the Explorer). What’s right for you is entirely subjective and depends on your preference for your archetype and how you choose to bring it to life in your branding. If you’re interested in learning more about archetypes and how to leverage them for your brand, let’s connect and schedule a time to discuss your brand.