Take Away Line
To be aware of brand is to deploy Jung’s theory of archetypes. All major brands deploy archetypes. A complex idea, archetypes allow leaders and marketers to associate their product, service or organisation with a dynamic force in human psychology for their benefit. But, beware! There is also a dark side that can and does bite hard.
What organisation these days isn’t aware of its brand?
As Wikipedia says: ‘The American Marketing Association defines a brand as a “Name, term, design, symbol, or any other feature that identifies one seller’s good or service as distinct from those of other sellers.”  A brand is thus a product or service whose dimensions differentiate it in some ways from other products or services designed to satisfy the same need.’
But brand also goes deeper than this; it is an idea that tries to capture both the stock of emotional goodwill towards a product or an organisation, as well as the image that brand carries amongst the wider public.
It will be apparent from the article elsewhere in this blog on ‘silver surfing’ that Jung’s ideas can help not only individual employees and leaders in work organisations understand who they are and provide road maps to how they can develop themselves as people – with material benefits to their employing organisations – but they can also help organisations understand their collective identities better, what they are about and what they want to become. And they can provide work organisations with the tools to articulate a more profound appeal, both internally and externally. Work place identities or, indeed, products and services, that are based on people’s dreams and aspirations are more likely to stick, to have meaning and to be successful than those which do not.
Thus, brand is as much about the unconscious as it is about the label, merely a conscious manifestation of brand. Both Freud and Jung’s understandings of the unconscious, provide key insights into the question of brand and of marketing.
From Freud’s idea of the unconscious as a repository or the forbidden fruits of life’s experiences, the marketer can manipulate our attitudes to a product (brand) by association, for example. Take the famous Marlborough cigarette ads – remember those horseback scenes in the mountains of the Western USA? – juxtaposing and thereby unconsciously linking smoking with freedom, the outdoor life and a pioneer spirit? Or the countless ways in which beauty, youth and suggestions of sex are used to link those ideas with chocolate confectionary or any number of other ‘sweet’ products in a suggestive and deliciously dangerous way.
However, from Jung, we get a different idea. One of Jung’s major theories centred on archetypes. While much disputed, archetypes are clusters of ideas, fantasies and feelings that are both constant, in that they crop up across cultures, periods of history and people, but also dynamic, in that they have, as it were, personalities and potential, and, critically, a darker side, a ‘shadow’, as he called it. A great example of this idea would be the Mother (or Carer) Archetype. Ever present throughout history, we all either had a mother or a range of near-mother substitutes that possessed in some measure, caring or nurturing qualities, listening, symbolised by the primordial mother or “earth mother” of mythology. The hero archetype is also another example and there are many others (see the image at the start of this article).
One does not need to think for long to discern even from these two examples how marketers deploy archetypes in the advertising campaigns, linking an archetypal idea with their brand. How many brands of washing powder, soap and other cleaning products, for example deploy the mother as the good woman who provides by making sure everything is clean, pure, germ-free, well cared for?
See how the superhero (i.e. hero archetype) is drawn from mythology to rescue, save from danger, to boldly go, to discover, to tame, etc, all alongside a particular product or service (which include cleaning products, so the cartoon super-hero (ie product) swoops in to ‘save’ the otherwise domestically lost housewive!) But also see how combinations of archetypes are deployed to give a more modern, feminist appeal, turning the saved (by the superhero) housewife into the hero herself, the working super-hero mum, combining elements of both the mother and the hero archetypes. Understanding Jung’s archetypes is therefore a key aspect of the mysterious arts of branding and advertising.
While stereotypes are also used in branding work, they are not archetypes which are more complex and, as mentioned, can be problematic. Imagine the impact on its brand if an airline deployed the hero archetype in its advertising campaigns, only later to have a safety record problem. Or the ‘pure’ soap, advertised with a young mother washing her baby that later was found to contain potentially carcinogenic chemicals. An example that is often quoted is the case of Nike – the very name, as well as the logo, evoking speed and the conquering mythical hero of old – when it was accused in the 1990s of using child labour. And imagine the global news organisation that portrays the image of being about bringing the news, especially the less salacious aspects of people’s private lives, becoming the news itself for the methods it uses to bring us these stories. In all these cases, the organisations walked into their own shadows, in branding terms. The impact on their brand is huge, not least because we are dealing with largely irrational and powerful feelings. The impact can be so huge that re-branding and structuring may be the only way to save the business from the ensuing crisis of credibilitiy.
Every archetype has both great and lasting potential, but also a hidden trap. Understanding both is important not just for advertising agencies, specialising in the arts of presentation, by tapping into these deep but complex aspects of human psychology, but also for leaders of organisations wishing to galvanise their workforces, tell the heroic stories of the products or services they’ve developed as an organisation, the ‘heroic’ hours or efforts that have been made or the warm, nurturing relationship they have with their customers or service users.
So, archetypes are felt in the stories that are told in a work organisation, stories that are true but also ones that capture a critical moment, mark history, freeze-frame a felt reality, make real the espoused values, especially when an ill-wind blows. And when there is a dissonance between the story and the reality, we spot it and call it for the hypocrisy that it is. So, for organisational leaders, understanding and deploying well these forces is an important tool in their leadership function.
- Archetypes: hogwash science or part of the felt reality of life in your organisation every day?
- What are your stories of how archetypes can be used to foster brand and are there examples of where the archetype that has been deployed to associate your products with has come back to bit you?