“Who is the hero of your brand story?”
I innocently asked this question one day on social media, complete with a cute graphic to illustrate my point. My intention was to tout the importance of storytelling when establishing brand authority. For the record, a company’s CEO or product is never the hero of a brand story. It’s the customer. There, I saved you a lot of Googling (and wondering).
It wasn’t long before I got utterly thrashed by other content marketing professionals who disagreed that every brand story has a hero. I was reminded there are several different brand archetypes, and “The Hero” was only one of them. They insisted that a hero doesn’t fit neatly into the other archetypes. They’re wrong.
Storytellers know that no matter what your brand’s personality may be, there always is a way to turn it into a compelling story with your customer as the hero. Don’t believe me? Keep reading, because I’m going to walk you through the other brand archetypes and create a compelling hero storyline for each of them.
What is a brand archetype?
Before I get into the nitty-gritty, some of you may be confused by the term brand archetype. To make a long story short, it’s marketing jargon. Brands associate with certain human characteristics to establish their brand personalities. Their personality then determines their brand archetype, which they use to guide their marketing strategies. Brand archetypes include:
Also known as “The Innocent,” brands that align with this archetype offer a product or service that caters to a simple way of life. One popular brand that does it and does it well is Coca-Cola. Their “Real Magic” campaign is a perfect example.
If you watched the full commercial, you might be thinking the hero of this story is the little boy who encourages his neighbors to build the “gift shoot” to cheer up an elderly shut-in. I can see why you might think that, but you’d be wrong.
The real hero of this brand story is the building security guard. He sees on the monitor the group is one box shy of its goal. He rushes to the rescue with his box (which just so happens to be an empty Coca-Cola container). Coke gets its brand recognition and turns this ordinary person into a hero in the process. It’s pure genius, really.
Everyman branding requires a marketing strategy that builds connections and promises a place where all belong. Its intent is to help customers find common ground with the brand. So, how do you find the hero in an everyman scenario? Let’s look to IKEA for the answer.
In its “Fortune Favors the Frugal” ad campaign, IKEA appeals to every man, woman, and child in the world to do their part to stop global warming. We then see a montage of people using IKEA products to live in moderation – one of the greenest ways of living. The ad makes every person using an IKEA product a hero, saving the earth together.
Nurturing brands encourage people to take care of others and themselves. Self-care products and services fit neatly into this brand archetype. You know what else suits this archetype well? Heroes. Just look at this 2018 commercial from Johnson and Johnson.
Nurses are caring by nature. It’s what makes them valuable members of the healthcare community. This brilliant commercial from J&J goes through several health crises in history, showing how nurses advanced patient outcomes through their nurturing and compassion. Boom. Drop the mic. Heroes. Every last one of them.
Brands that want to make their mark on the world fancy themselves as creators. They often produce experimental marketing campaigns that push boundaries. Their products and services promise to unlock your creativity and encourage self-expression. One of the brands that do it best is none other than Lego.
Check out this commercial from 2014, designed to inspire imagination and independence. If you’re thinking the little girl is the hero in this one, go back and look again. Her mom plays the role of caped crusader here. Unlike in other hero storylines, mom’s superpower is a little more subtle.
Sure, she could swoop in and save the day every time her daughter struggles. Instead, she turns to the power of Legos to help her daughter become more independent. Mom’s superpower is giving her daughter the freedom to make mistakes and be the hero of her own journey. The tool she uses to do it is Legos.
Who doesn’t like a good adventure? Products and services geared toward helping people make new discoveries and live their best lives tap into this brand archetype. A lot of outdoor and sports-related companies fit this archetype nicely. GoPro is your typical Explorer archetype brand.
While most of its commercials feature athletes performing daring feats, one commercial from 2013 played the hero storyline perfectly. There’s no fanfare or fancy stunts. Just a fireman using a GoPro to find a tiny kitten in a housefire.
It’s not looking good for the kitten, but the fireman doesn’t give up. Through the lens of the GoPro, we watch him bring the kitty back from the brink of death. Why? Cause that’s what heroes do. Well played, GoPro. Well played.
Deep down, we all just want to be loved. Some brands build entire product lines and services around this deep-seated desire. They promise if you buy their stuff, you’ll instantly be more emotionally and physically attractive, helping you to get the love you so desperately seek.
When most people think about love, Hallmark immediately comes to mind. Heck, they have an entire channel devoted to love story movies. Their commercials for their trademark greeting cards tap into our desire to belong and to be loved. This gem from 2018 has a very subtle hero storyline.
Did you figure it out? It’s not the persistent family that continues to shower its grumpy neighbor with acts of kindness. The active hero in this commercial is the grumpy neighbor’s deceased wife. Every time he rebuffs his neighbors’ efforts to connect, she stares at him from the photo on the wall. It’s the memory of her that finally convinces him to stop being such an old crank.
Cutting-edge brands that want to change the world and the lives of everyone in it often pair their brand personality with a hero storyline. We don’t need to look any further than the iconic Disney to find the perfect example.
Check out this quirky Disney Paris commercial from 2018 titled “The Little Duck.” It’s hard to imagine Donald Duck as a hero, but that’s exactly what he is in this short from Disney. Not only does he inspire the baby duck in the commercial to be the best duck he can be, but it also caters to the “meeting your childhood heroes” storyline when that same baby duck overcomes adversity to later meet Donald in person.
Most luxury brands fit into this archetype. They appeal to customers who expect only the very best in life. One of the best examples of a brand fitting this personality is Mercedes-Benz.
In this extended ad from 2012, the luxury carmaker introduces a hero – doubling as an accomplice – for a little boy who keeps exercising his independence in the most unusual way. It’s not the first time they’ve tapped the hero’s journey for a commercial.
This gem from 2010 turns the tables on Death himself when the car’s driver outsmarts him and saves his own life. How? Because he was smart enough to know he deserved the very best luxury car with brake assistant features.
Want a third example? In this Mercedes-Benz ad, this woman literally has two heroes from which to choose to save the day. Clearly, the marketing department at Mercedes-Benz understands you can be king and a hero.
It doesn’t take a marketing guru to figure out what this brand archetype is all about. Helping people have a good time while bringing a little joy to their lives is the target for brands with this personality. Marketing efforts usually embrace adventure and humor, which makes it ideal for inserting a hero or two.
A company that does both well is Skittles. This oldie but goodie from 2007 has a reluctant hero storyline. We’re introduced to a guy who can turn everything he touches into Skittles. Others think it’s the coolest superpower ever. Him, not so much.
Sage personality brands position themselves as experts that appreciate truth and wisdom. Growth and knowledge go hand-in-hand in their marketing campaigns. They operate under the premise of keeping you informed.
Google is one of the brands that play the Sage archetype well. In this 2021 ad, Google helps transform the dad of an easily bored child (with a slight obsession with octopus) into a hero in his son’s eyes.
Find your brand archetype and its hero
Who said you can’t have a hero in every archetype? Content marketers who don’t understand storytelling, that’s who. If you want to connect with your audience in a way that makes them the hero of your brand’s story, contact The Write Reflection today. We’ll be happy to help you craft your hero’s journey.
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Shari L. Berg is the owner/operator of The Write Reflection, and a writing professional for 25 years.