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What is your story?

And who is your brand?
Jon Howard-Spink, sets out some guidelines for using archetypes effectively
in building brands

S THERE A better way to define brands different stages of history into theatres mythology Companies that manifest

I than the jumble of bland, unrelated

adjectives we typically employ? That
was the question I posed here last October
that provide lessons for modern players.
Even in the cutting-edge science of artifi-
cial intelligence, there is increasingly a
this sensibility invoke something very
powerful. (Scott Bedbury, ex-head of mar-
keting at Nike and Starbucks).
(1). My answer was to suggest that there is belief that it is general (and eternal) At the heart of every great brand,
much to be learnt from the archetypal sto- themes and metaphors that are key to whether it is a chocolate bar for its
ries and characters of myth and legend. intelligence, not knowledge of specific consumers, a bank for its customers, pop
However, as with any good yarn, my first facts and figures (4). And even that arch- stars for their fans, or a company to its
instalment ended on a cliffhanger. Left rationalist modernist Richard Dawkins, employees, is a compelling story built
unsaid was how exactly you put this in his theory of self-perpetuating ideas or around an emotive character or personality.
theory into practice, which I address in memes, is talking about nothing less than While it is important to have a good
this article. stories. product or service, and a competitive
Ultimately, when you strip everything price, it is this story that provides sustain-
Understanding archetypes else away, story is all we are. We are able differentiation and reason for
If you look at myths and legends from defined by the stories we tell and that purchase. We are at our most loyal when
different cultures and times, similar are told about us. And brands are part of buying the story of the brand and the
underlying narrative structures and char- that story. opportunity to become part of that story.
acters emerge. These archetypes resonate So, we buy Nike sports shoes, but not
powerfully with us, and are regularly Using the power of archetypes just because they offer a performance
exploited by the film-makers and authors to create legendary brands benefit. We are also buying a story rooted
of today. According to Chris Vogler, one of A brand is a metaphorical story that in the history of sporting endeavour, and
Hollywoods leading script doctors, [the connects with something very deep a a chance to join the gods of sporting
great films] consist of common elements fundamental human appreciation of prowess. In other words, Nike isnt just
found universally in myths, fairy tales
and dreams as soon as you enter their FIGURE 1

world you become aware of recurring The 12 master archetypes

character types and relationships (2).
Jung suggested these archetypes have Order
continued cross-cultural potency because
they reflect our own collective uncon-
sciousness, drives, needs, fears and Ruler
desires hardwired into all of us. Often Creator
though, we only consciously recognise
and articulate these drives when we see
them brought to life in the stories of oth- Innocent
ers, whether Homer, the Brothers Grimm,
Tolkien or Spielberg. As myth analyst
Joseph Campbell suggested of his con- Sage Self-
temporary: Jung has demonstrated knowledge
belonging Jester
irrefutably that the logic, heroes and
deeds of myth survive into modern times
[in our] private, unrecognised, yet
secretly potent pantheon of dreams (3). Everyman
This recognition that the eternal sto-
ries have continued potency is not
limited to mythologists and psychoana- Outlaw Champion
lysts. Stephen Gould, one of the great Magician
scientists of the late 20th century, also saw
the truth in these tales human thought
and emotion have a universality that Change
transcends time, converting the

16 Admap September 2003 World Advertising Research Center 2003

Jon Howard-Spink splits his
time between his role as
planning director of Mustoe
Merriman Levy and
providing brand consultancy
via The Oven.
He loves story in all its
forms, whether movies,
comics, novels or brands.

selling shoes; it is selling life meaning brand should be rooted in (or why). For and to align all aspects of their business in
that no one else can offer. Similarly, this reason, structure must be applied. To light of this understanding. The approach
Harley-Davidson doesnt just sell motor- do this, I have turned to the mythologists takes as its start point two key questions
bikes, but the story of you as a Hells and social anthropologists who suggest What is your story? and Who is your
Angel on the wide, open roads of America that the limitless characters of myths and brand? In looking at how to answer these
even if you live somewhere completely legends (and, by implication, books and questions, I will focus on two of the tools
different. films) can be defined in terms of master we use: Story Audit and Brand Archetyp-
Thinking of brands as story and char- character archetypes. Carol Pearson (5), ing Workshops. I will explain how those
acter is powerful stuff, as Bedbury possibly the best-known contemporary tools work by considering three different
suggests, moving us beyond the limita- writer in this field, has suggested that brands I have worked with which, for
tions of adjectival definitions. If I say my there are 12 of these (Figure 1). confidentiality reasons, I will call Brand
brand is iconoclastic, crusading, rebel- Where it can be difficult to isolate one A, Brand B and Brand C. These all happen
lious and charismatic, I may feel these person or character that captures the to be long-standing fmcg brands, but the
words are rich and distinctive. But being values and meaning of your brand, principles of managing meaning would
iconoclastic and rebellious can mean dif- agreeing that your brand is an Explorer or apply in any context, including for new
ferent things for the marketing Outlaw can be far easier. In turn, this brand concept development and internal
department and the MD, client and makes specific personification much culture management (the company
agency, or planner and creative team. We more straightforward. brand to its employees).
assume common understanding, when Building on this principle, I have devel-
in reality our visions of the brand could be oped a suite of tools to help manage the What is your story?
fundamentally at odds. brand archetyping process. These have If a great brand requires a compelling
If, however, I say my brand is Robin been used very successfully with our story, it is important to understand the
Hood, the archetypal champion of the advertising clients at Mustoes, delivering stories told about that brand. This is the
underdog, everything becomes clear: all significant step-change insights in the purpose of a Story Audit.
ambiguity is removed. Everyone under- process. And they are also a central The answers come from reviewing
stands the character and values of the project-based offering of our sister brand how a brand talks about itself, for exam-
brand, the story it is telling, and how that consultancy, The Oven. ple in company reports, on its website, its
story should be brought to life for the Recognising that a great brand requires packaging or in its advertising; and from
consumer. Interestingly, it is claimed that a great story built around a great charac- carrying out interviews with key
Richard Bransons vision in the early days ter, these tools are designed to help brand stakeholders, particularly long-term
of the Virgin empire was for the brand to owners understand, formalise, communi- employees, key suppliers and customers,
be like Robin Hood. And that archetypal cate and manage their story and character, and loyal consumers.
vision has been made manifest ever since. Carrying out a Story Audit proved a sig-
Indeed, so emotionally appealing is the nificant first step in repositioning Brand
Virgin brand, that we often forgive its Whats the story? A. Historically, the brand was something
product shortcomings Its OK if the of an Everyman, an unpretentious yet
trains dont run on time, because Virgin is Ask yourself these 5 questions rather macho savoury snack. Though
on our side! there was some truth in this, it was always
This is what it means to use the power 1. How well established is the story felt that there was more to the brand.
of archetypes to create legendary brands. currently? The hidden depths were revealed by a
2. How internally consistent is it?
Story Audit, especially when people were
Putting theory into practice encouraged to be more creative in their
There is no limit to the number of possi- 3. Do people understand the story recounting. Indeed, it is often the case that,
ble archetypes: they are as varied as and does everyone understand it in for those directly involved with marketing
human experience itself (Gales Ency- the same way? a brand, it is only by stepping outside our
clopaedia of Psychology). usual language and models (positioning
Branson was lucky. His vision for the 4. How believable and motivating do statements, brand images, market shares,
Virgin brand came already packaged in people find it? and so on) that the real story emerges.
archetypal terms. But most of the time, 5. What character and values does
In this instance, rather than a filling
we wont have the luxury of knowing it suggest? fuel for truck drivers and construction
which of the limitless archetypes our workers, the stories people told conjured

World Advertising Research Center 2003 September 2003 Admap 17


up more a timeless Innocent. In the on this practical benefit, a Brand Arche- TABLE 1
words of the subsequent creative brief, typing Workshop helped identify a more Branding on the web
the brand is an antidote to the stresses emotionally distinctive positioning, that
and strains of the modern world; the of a Creator in a complex, often confus- No of results
embodiment of a nicely outdated view of ing market, this brand helps you get the Brand image 105,000
life. results you want. Brand equity 75,600
Prior to a workshop, participants fill out Brand positioning 18,000
Who is your brand? our interactive Archetype Assessor, rating Brand personality 6,600
Though carrying out a Story Audit can be their brand on 96 descriptors (try it out at Brand essence 2,820
a stand-alone project, it is typically carried Brand attitude 1,380
out in conjunction with a Brand Arche- The output of this gives an indication of Brand core 921
typing Workshop because, if a great the archetypes a brand may be rooted in.
Brand archetype 22
brand requires a compelling story, that Interestingly, in this instance, Creator
Brand archetyping 1
story needs to be built around an emotive was already instinctively emerging as by
character. And the most emotive charac- far the strongest archetype, not the gener- Source: Google search, 01.05.03
ters are archetypal ones. ic Explorer (Figure 2).
The workshop is designed to help Once a brand has been defined in
people get to grips with this character, terms of the master archetypes, the next the development of a brands story, and
and define it in a relevant and motivating step is to bring it to life through personifi- together they create the meaningful, dis-
way, laying firm foundations for the cation. It is at here that we make concrete tinctive and emotive brand properties
brands story to be aligned and imple- all that the brand stands for, by rooting it that more conventional models and
mented through all aspects of the in a known character. Brand C, for exam- approaches fail to deliver.
business. A workshop will typically have ple, is an obvious Magician, the secret
three steps. ingredient that brings transformation. The importance of
1. Defining the brand in terms of the 12 Often, though, there had been an all-pow- being different
master character archetypes. erful, Gandalf-like quality to how the Put the words brand image into Google
2. Bringing this archetypal definition to brand was portrayed. What became clear and you get 105,000 results. It is the cur-
life in terms of a specific personification. during the workshop, however, was that rency everyone uses, but it is a currency
3. Agreeing the values of this personifica- this missed a key facet of the brand: a that has become devalued due to its over-
tion. naive Innocent quality which means the reliance on verbal definitions. The same is
When working with archetypes, there brand doesnt always know what will true of equity, positioning, personality or
are a number of important considera- happen when its power is unleashed. In essence. But put the words brand arche-
tions. For example, you need to this way, it was felt that Harry Potter, type into Google and you get just 22
differentiate between the generic arche- rather than Gandalf, was a more accurate results (brand archetyping appears only
type of a market, which, though and useful personification of the brand once) (see Table 1).
important, can often be strong in all and its values. To conclude, not only does brand
brands, and the archetypal nuances that archetyping give you a more meaningful,
make each brand different. Brand B is a The story continues distinctive and emotionally potent defini-
good example of this. Beyond these central tools, further appli- tion of your brand, it does so in a way that
Brand B had always been positioned as cations for brand archetyping have begun few people are yet exploiting. And, as we
an Explorer, in part due to overseas to emerge through the projects I have all know, being innovative and different
provenance, with its point of difference carried out. These include the following. in marketing is one of the best ways to
being functional convenience. Building Archetype alignment workshops, guarantee business success. So, what is
where the implications of a brands arche- your story and who is your brand?
type on all aspects of the business,
FIGURE 2 1. J Howard-Spink: Using Archetypes to Build
internal and external, are considered.
Archetype assessor (Brand B) Brand storytelling, where, by various Stronger Brands. Admap, Oct 2002.
means you enable key brand stakeholders 2. C Vogler: The Writers Journey: Mythic
Creator to understand and internalise the brand Structure for Storytellers and Screenwriters,
Sage story. Pan, 1999.
Explorer Brand story implementation pro- 3 J Campbell: The Hero with a Thousand
Faces. Fontana Press, 1988.
Ruler grammes that bring a brands character
4. R Schank, R Abelson and R Wyer (ed):
Magician and story to life, whether in advertising or Knowledge and Memory: the Real Story
Lover annual reports, through promotions or at (Advances in Social Cognition), Lawrence
Everyman point of sale, in your office design or Erlbaum Associates, 1995.
Jester through your websites. 5. C Pearson: Awakening the Heroes Within:
Champion Story management, which recognises Twelve Archetypes to Help Us Find Our-
Outlaw that defining a brands story is not a one- selves and Transform the World, Harper,
Innocent off exercise. You need to monitor and San Francisco, 1998.
Caregiver manage the story over time, to ensure it
0 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 remains both consistent and relevant.
Each represents a different chapter in

18 Admap September 2003 World Advertising Research Center 2003