Brand Advantage: Become Your Own Archetype

Patrick HanlonJuly 25, 20235 min

It has become standard for marketing and communications pros to spin psychologist Carl Jung’s wheel of archetypes, hoping to land on an appropriate story model for their brand. That’s great. But here’s how to level up — the real marketing objective should be to become your own archetype, right?

How is this possible? Here’s a mythic example: Carl Jung himself pointed to the Greek adventure tale of Jason and the Argonauts, to help him illustrate the hero’s journey.

Thing is, there is evidence that this archetypical story actually happened (minus the Greek gods). Understanding this might broaden the field of vision on your own brand.

Quick Review: German psychologist Carl Jung established the importance of the sapiens collective unconscious, a repository of symbolic imagery that is an essential part of human psychology. It’s the human birthright.

Jung’s supporters identified Jungian archetypes (like the Hero, Caregiver and Sage) — templates that have become relevant for creating brands. By using signs and symbols that can tap into our audience’s unconscious people can source deep emotive connections.

Belief built around a powerful narrative is deeply Jungian. But the root code for building such narratives is primal branding.

The Ultimate Destiny Is To Become Your Own Archetype

Possible? Maybe. Early on, we uncovered a living example of myth.

The Australian Wool Board is responsible for about 25% of global wool production and represents over 30,000 wool growers in Australia. They are home to the finest wool on the planet: Extra Fine Merino Wool.

Thanks to the Wool Board’s chief executive Brenda McGahan and consultant Lori Sutej, we were hired to re-vision Extra Fine Merino Wool in the U.S.A. Early on, McGahan and team explained to us just how Extra Fine Merino Wool came to earn its reputation as the finest wool in the world.

Merino sheep have been around for centuries, they explained. In Medieval times, understanding that underhanded merchants might try to stuff bales within ships loaded with wool with scratchy, lesser quality wool, merchants buying wool by the boatload had their wives sleep naked overnight amongst the wool bales. If the spouse enjoyed a luxurious night’s sleep, the merchant family was assured they were buying the genuine article (and avoided being “fleeced”). (One of Merino wool’s features is that it is soft as cashmere and can be worn comfortably against the skin; unlike cashmere — which stretches when wet and over time — Merino fibers spring back to their original shape.)

Merino was sought after by Renaissance Italian weavers to produce the finest Italian cloth. From the Enlightenment to modern times, they sold the extra fine “material” to be cut and stitched into expensive garments in fashion centers including Milan, Paris, London.

Here Comes The Myth. In prehistory, Merino sheep did not exist in Australia, but grazed in the hills of Asia Minor. Merino wool was so legendary it was known as the Golden Fleece. According to Greek myth, Jason and his band of Argonauts endured a series of adventures as they sought — and eventually stole — the Golden Fleece. (Historical note: Jason’s shipmates included Orpheus, Heracles, the winged Boreads and a dozen others. His marriage to Medea was the subject of playwright Euripides’s Greek tragedy Medea.)

Notice how some of this sounds like cliche — which is exactly because its historical relevance has been imbedded in our brains for thousands of years. Over the centuries Merino flocks traveled East to West, pasturing from Asia Minor across the top of the African continent. Merinos accompanied the Moors when they invaded Spain in 711 AD and, by the 1800’s, Merino sheep were the private flocks of the King of Spain: no one was permitted to wear Extra Fine Merino wool, except as a gift from the royal family. Merino wool was still the golden fleece.

Fast Forward To The Napoleanic Wars. From 1808 to1814, the British invaded Spain in order to outflank Napoleon’s French army. Headed for Waterloo, British troops intercepted the Spanish King’s flocks and, recognizing good woolies when they saw them — seized the Merino sheep as their own.

Understanding the worth of this war prize (and the tendency to repatriate stolen treasures after peace treaties were signed) British commanders shipped the contraband Merinos as far away as possible. In the early 1800s, this meant the distant shores of South Africa, New Zealand and Australia.

These geographies are where Extra Fine Merino Wool — now branded Smartwool®, WoolX, Merino and other names and used in Icebreaker, Allbirds, Nordstrom’s products — is produced today.

Archetypes Outrun Time. The fact that Psychologist Carl Jung mentions the myth of Jason and the Argonauts as an example of the archetypal hero’s journey, makes this all the more interesting.

French social anthropologist Claude Levi-Strauss came to a similar conclusion as he struggled to understand the structure and meaning of myth. Present phenomena are transformations of earlier structures and infrastructures, he declared, “the structure of primitive thoughts is present in our minds.”

The power of archetypes is that they retain meaning over time. It’s hard to depict the fuzzy beginnings of archetypes: exactly when and how did the character types of the Hero, Caregiver and Sage take shape? We don’t know and we may never know.

According to Jungian psychologist James Hillman, our minds are a psychological fantasy. By consciously using story and symbol, we weave our own fantasies and create our own reality. Together, these elements create a strategic brand narrative that satisfies the parts of our brain that make us feel safe, make rational sense, and influence preference.

Jung’s archetypes helps us understand the psychological underpinnings of Primal Branding, the source code for building mythic brands. Spread your creation story, reasons to believe, symbols, rites, lexicon, leader — and acknowledge the nonbelievers, outsiders, pagans who do not believe, across social, digital and traditional media and you can attract those who believe what you believe.

Consciously, we may try to ignore these signals as intelligent consumers. But, unconsciously, they become a warm bath of affirmation, trust, vision, belonging and kinship.

Can Mickey Mouse ears, the Nike swoosh, I ❤️ New York, Miyazaki, Kusama, Warhol’s “Marilyn Monroe”, Levi’s blue jeans or John Lennon ultimately become lodged in our psychic DNA? The key is to build stories worth retelling.

As Homer once declared, “Fate controls all.”

Contributed to Branding Strategy Insider by Patrick Hanlon, Author of Primal Branding

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Patrick Hanlon


  • Paul McCabe

    July 26, 2023 at 9:02 am

    I am not sure I understand the message here. The lead in suggests that a goal for brands is to Become Your Own Archetype, suggesting, I think, that there is something greater to reach for than the archetypes Jung has described. However, the piece seems to conclude by suggesting that brands should embrace these primal archetypes, as doing so will lead to a tribe of consumers that experience the “warm bath of affirmation, trust, vision, belonging and kinship.”.

    Is this article proposing a progression, where brands first either target (startup) or identify (mature) their Jungian archetype, then move beyond this to become something unique? If the goal is the latter, would this somehow be better than experiencing the benefits of living within a well-defined and proven archetype?

  • Patrick Hanlon

    July 30, 2023 at 11:19 am

    Sorry for the confusion. While it may be a stretch to propose that communications based on quarterly sales might also have the ability to last a few thousand years into the future, I wonder “Why not?” The short-term objective, though, is to build your narrative in a form that seems to be everlasting. “Primal branding” and Jungian archetypes are knit from the same cloth (Merino wool, if you like), so start there. The objective is not to mimic archetypes by rote, but to foster curiosity and originality around your own enterprise. By using these tools to create our own stories, we attract others and conjure passion and advocacy. Create your own mythology, your own heroes. In sum, don’t be like anything else. It pays to be weird.

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