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How Is An Archetype Defined? 


"An archetype is a universally familiar character or situation that transcends time, place, culture, gender and age. It represents an eternal truth."

- Jon Howard-Spink

Archetypes are hard.

Archetypes may be universally familiar, which means they are one of the most challenging concepts to wield and use. The branding world loves archetypes - what better way to break down what companies do with their marketing than to paint one of twelve simple costumes on its face? 

Do you know your brand’s archetype? Why not take one of these costumes off the rack and try it on for a while? As though an archetype is something you can pick for your brand. 

As though the archetype was something your audience would care about. 

“Our archetype is a Magician!” you can proclaim loudly through your social media platform of choice. Go ahead, give it a try. No one cares.

Yet, Archetypes are Powerful.

The idea of archetypes goes back to before recorded history. You can find them, feel them, in every fable and myth from cultures all over the world. The system of archetypes draws straight from our collective unconscious - it is the same for everyone. They are used by everyone and belong to no one. The potency of the archetype shows up in how you use them. 

However, YOUR archetypal mix is unique. While there are 12 archetypes within all of us - each archetype manifests depending on situations, contexts, and other present archetypes - your archetypal mix is made of the traits of only a few of these characters. 

Misuse an archetype, and it becomes a burden on your brand. Use them well, and you can find yourself with the kind of clarity business owners pay millions for. 

The Archetypes are an Architecture

At the outset, there are 12 universally known, widely shared Jungian archetypes. But within each archetype are a set of variables that determine how it structures itself to the rest of the collective unconscious. 

Every archetype is built into one of four quadrants, their relation to other archetypes, and the variants within the archetype. For this to be useful to your brand, each piece is considered in tandem, at the same time, with the others. It will most certainly cook your noodle and screw up the way you have thought about branding, your psyche, and the world around you.

How The Archetypes Must Be Defined and Used

Archetypes are a tool; the result is all in how you learn to use the tool. Like a compass, archetypes are a tool that can guide you. A compass will not tell you where you are, but it will tell you what direction you’re heading in compared to magnetic north. When it comes to branding, the goal is to create something that is universally understood, accepted, and lasting - not unlike an archetype.

Every archetype is defined by four components: The Shadow, The Anima/ Animus, The Self/ Ego, and The Persona. Each of these components speaks to other Jungian concepts - like the Unconscious Design. We approached the Unconscious Design in previous work. If the archetype is the nail, then the Unconscious Design is the hammer that drives it. 

The Shadow

Everything casts a shadow. The archetype’s shadow is everything on the other side of the light - the dark side of repressed desires. The shadow shapes our biases and prejudices and influences decisions without our knowing. The shadow is a powerful self-preservation tool, commonly resorting to emotional and psychological manipulation when it feels threatened. 

Every brand has a shadow. Unlike the personal shadow, the brand’s archetypal shadow is often seen in the negative things that impact our brand. As Marty Neumeier says: “Your brand is not what you say it is, but what they say it is.” 

When branding, the personal shadow shows up in the way you think your brand needs to present itself. It is the colors and fonts you think “look cool” or when you decide to “borrow” other brands' ideas. The professionals at BAM Align serve as an impartial guide for this exact reason: if we let your shadow self build a brand, your brand may end up being a shadow in and of itself.

Because your brand is not what you think it is, it’s what your audience thinks it is.

The Anima/ Animus

Within Jung’s theories of the collective unconscious, the anima/ animus is the sexual opposite. The animus is the unconscious masculine side of a woman, and the anima is the unconscious feminine side of a man. The presence of the anima/animus is a psychological spectrum - it provides a strong internal contrast to whatever you express externally. This explains why people are attracted to others beyond the physical. The ideas transcend sexuality beyond male/female or man/woman - whatever you express externally, the opposite works subconsciously to provide the masculine/feminine balance. 

How does this work on a branding level? Archetypes speak to the unconscious within all of us. Outwardly masculine messaging appeals to the internal, unconscious feminine and vice versa. Brands that don’t acknowledge this balance eventually fall apart. 

For example: a gym’s aggressive, male-centric messaging appeals to its clients because it speaks to their internal need for security and confidence. Or, an intimate brand uses soft or flowery language to appeal to what the masculine wants: femininity.

I wasn’t kidding: this stuff can really cook your noodle. 

The Self - The Ego

If the Anima/ Animus is the balancing weight, the Ego is the middle point between the Jungian conscious and unconscious (somewhat separate from Freud's Id - Ego - Superego construct). The ego is the youness that people engage with.

Everything about your ego is shaped by your experiences - conscious and unconscious - and highlights your strongest and weakest assets. 

Brands express their ego through how they differ from their competition. Effective brands solve internal conflicts with external solutions. When brands accomplish this, they gain credibility and confidence to guide their customers to find solutions for their problems. 

This is different from a brand that has a “huge ego” because they have the bravado or excessive volume. The Ego - both personally and as a brand - is an awareness of the path behind you and where you are today. Knowing this path lets brands create boundaries of what they do and don’t do so they can strengthen their competencies. 

The Persona

The Persona is often confused with the archetype. The persona is the outward expression of everything within - the mask you wear, the clothes you don, how you act in social settings.  While your persona may be similar from one day to the next, it may change depending on the surroundings you find yourself in. 

A brand’s Persona can be tricky. Here, the Persona’s job is to see the world from the client’s perspective and share what we know in a way that best serves them. Just as there is a difference when you talk with your grandmother than you do your friends, brands have to shift how they present themselves depending on the context of the audience in front of them. 

For example: your social media content likely needs to feel universal, but a paid webinar can be very personable and dive deep on esoteric concepts. What you say on a podcast might differ from what you write on a guest column. 

All four of these components work behind the scenes of the archetype. They are designed out of sight and implemented seamlessly through the avenues (Personas) your brand develops. 

The Archetypal Variants

We at BAM present the archetypes in a circle to show how they are pieces to a complete universe, but the archetypes exist on a spectrum within the circle. There is no hard and fast border between archetypes, the blend from one to the next as each representation manifests certain traits. The 12 primary archetypes are the center of their respective spectrums of four variants. Each variant is influenced by neighbouring archetypes. 

The Magician is the key archetype to the variants of Alchemist, Scientist, Innovator, Engineer.

On the edges of The Magician’s variant spectrum are two other key archetypes: The Outlaw and the Paragon. When the Outlaw influences the Magician, you get an Alchemist - someone who works with their own set of rules to create something. Meanwhile, the Magician's creations gain exacting credibility when they are pulled toward the Paragon to give us Innovators and Engineers - creators with hard facts and numbers.

Every Archetype Matures

Just as people trust maturity in the conscious world, the maturity of your archetypes (and therein, your brand) correlates directly to your level of influence and authenticity. Most people think of maturity in stages or levels - as though you were progressing upwards. We find it more helpful to think of them as helix. You are going through cycles, but the start of one cycle never quite matches up with another. 

Each cycle can take you deeper, and the concentric layers bring you closer or farther away from your core. The closer you are to your core, the more mature your identity and purpose are.  

To simplify this idea, look at maturity in wavelengths.

The first wavelength is a bit chaotic. You’re out of tune with the archetype. The waveform is all over the place. You might hit the right note a few times, but it feels impossible to hold onto it for very long. 

The second wavelength is more consistent. You’re a bit out of tune, but the out-of-tuneness is more consistent. The question is, can you hit the right notes?

If you can hit the right notes, consistently, the waveform falls in line - it is consistent and in-tune. You have a clarity and understanding of what you’re about and what you need to be saying. You can hold this note forever. 

The Architecture of Archetypes

Popularly, Carl Jung is remembered as an influential psychologist. A lot of his writings and studies were backed by scientific methods so his ideas could maintain a sense of credibility. Behind all of his psychology production, he was a man with a wild imagination who saw the world beyond the bounds of science. His more obscure library (such as the Red and Black Books) refers to his “speaking to the soul” and “a voyage to discover the ‘other’ pole of the world.” Not exactly the stuff of doctors.

More noodles to cook. 

Jung saw the unconscious world as something infinite and without bounds. No limits, no rules, full of your pure desire. Knowing the unconscious world is to see the patterns and find the structures that make them possible and where you fit among them. Consider your dreams: anything can happen when you’re asleep. It is almost an injustice to then take the archetypes - these manifestations of the unconscious - and apply structure to them. The best we can do is show that every archetype is made up of components that move in different directions in tandem. 

Where most modern thinkers will say “here is an identity, figure out how to fit within it,” archetypes are largely built on a foundation lacking concrete backing or specific methods. Instead, we ask: where do you fit among this nearly infinite spectrum? The marvelousness of it is that even without concrete results, we still universally understand it. We give the archetypes a structure so they can be better understood, used, and applied to the world around us - and the brands we use to navigate this world.

It’s a lot to take on, but this is what we do at BAM. We’re the impartial guides. There is no favor of one archetype over another, we only want to help you fully embrace your brand’s archetype so you can best connect to the audience that needs you the most.


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