“Just like Mom used to make.”
What image does this phrase conjure up in your mind? A mother, of course. Maybe not yours, but you probably know somebody with a mother or grandmother like that.
See, that type of person is present across all cultures throughout the centuries — the personality archetype of the nurturer or the creator. When you hear “just like Mom used to make,” it presents a vivid picture of what something should look, smell, and taste like.
How does that relate to copywriting?
Carl Jung, a disciple of psychiatrist Sigmund Freud, examined myths, legends, and stories. Through this work, he found twelve common characters or personality archetypes that readers and storytellers recognize. These themes are universal and easily understood.
He believed in a collective unconscious, a sort of common, ancestral memory all people share. There’s the conscious world that we’re aware of and the unconscious that emerges in dreams and psychoanalysis.
Remember, Jung merely described these archetypes. He didn’t invent them. Think about how Isaac Newton discovered gravity. He didn’t invent gravity. It was always there. He merely observed it and came up with a theory to explain it.
In a similar vein, these archetypes are universal. The only difference is how you choose to divide and describe them.
Most people already have these characters in their minds from countless movies, TV shows, and everyday experiences. That means you can maximize the impact in your writing with minimal grunt work.
If you harness these themes in copywriting, readers will be able to recognize themselves and their desires in your copy. Do that, and you can lead them into awareness or a conversion.
So what are these twelve characters that readers relate to and understand? Let’s go over them.
First thing’s first, we character archetypes are usually reserved for just that—characters. We likely think of a solo character, a singular embodiment of a trope of some kind. A cowboy, an alien, a power-hungry dictator.
But brands can also have archetypes, since they’re often seen as a collective entity. When you think of Google, you don’t think of all the super smart people working at Google, you think of Google as a company—as a whole.
So brands tend to embrace one major archetype and borrow aspects from another couple of them. While several of these are related, try to focus on one or two to create the most vivid image.
Readers love a good story, and archetypes are the characters. The more engaging a story is, the more attention you get, and the higher your chances are to convert.
Here's a storytelling guide to help make your copy more persuasive.
Jesse James. Harley Davidson. James Dean. What do they all have in common? Rebellion. Whether it’s a cowboy in the old wild west, a motorcycle company, or a movie star, they share the same feature — they disrupt your expectations and carve their own path.
Outlaws challenge the status quo and create exciting new possibilities for the consumer to enjoy. Tired of your minivan and 9-to-5? Break free and become your true self, answering to no one but your personal passions.
The outlaw exists in every person’s unconscious mind, and tapping into this archetype does much of the background work in creating a brand.
Your reader may not be able to quit that 9-to-5, but they can definitely buy a cooler car, eat more unusual food, or express themselves through your brand.
When you make a sale or conversion, you’re selling more than a product. You’re selling a concept, a lens through which to perceive the world.
There are two types of outlaw customers: those who already identify with this trope and others who wish that they could.
For instance, aspiring writers who need to learn new writing techniques so they can eventually identify with the writer trope will require a different offer than those who are already established writers.
Identifying your audience’s desires and drawing the connection between those wants and the benefits you offer in your copy generates more leads and better prospects.
As Frank Sinatra sang, “Fairy tales can come true, it can happen to you.”
The magician is another archetype that appeals to your audience’s fantasies. Your brand promises to transform the audience from the mundane to the magnificent.
They innovate and inspire new ideas. Consider Disney, the greatest example of the magician archetype.
Disney parks fully immerse their customers in another world. Real life slips away and they engage with the brand and lose themselves in make-believe.
For example, you can use the magician archetype when promoting brands promising health, relaxation, and beauty. The magician could represent a spa trip in its branding.
Don’t just appeal to their needs, but also to their desires and secret fantasies. Magicians promise the ultimate transformation and fantasy fulfillment.
Like the outlaw, the magician represents an escape from everyday, dull existence. There’s a reason that Disney markets itself as “The Happiest Place on Earth.”
If you connect their need for miracles and happiness and write copy that explains how they can achieve it, you’ve got your next conversion.
“Just do it.”
Brave and resourceful, the hero knows how to get stuff done. Like the brand Nike, a hero takes the lead, sets an example, and makes the world a better place.
A hero possesses ambition, power, and the ability to use those things to help other people. A hero has a vision and the determination to follow through on that vision to save the world (or at least make it nicer).
Sports brands want to evoke the hero archetype. So would a rescue organization like the Red Cross or any institution that affects positive change.
Think of an example from ancient Greek mythology: Odysseus. He travels, struggles, and reaches his goals. His journey transforms him into a living legend.
Consumers need a hero to look up to, something they can depend on to meet their needs. Try it out and see if that’s your brand.
The lover embraces relationships and sensuality. Think of perfume, lingerie, and chocolate. A lover seeks a deep connection and fears rejection at all costs.
Godiva chocolate employs lover imagery. Don’t just think of physical intimacy, think of the intentions behind it. A lover is daring, romantic, and irresistible.
What could be more irresistible than good, high-quality chocolate? The lover archetype works for luxury brands, and for any experience that engages smell, taste, sight, sound, and touch.
Don’t use the lover for more serious endeavors, such as a non-profit or charity. The lover is a fun brand. Something you don’t necessarily need, but really want.
The lover isn’t the only archetype that appeals to desires, as opposed to practical needs. People need humor and escapism, too.
Learn how to trigger powerful emotions in your copywriting here.
The jester is light-hearted and fun. Like the lover, the jester just wants to have a good time. This archetype is most appropriate for food and recreational items.
Traditional copywriters will tell you that the focus should be on the product, not on the ability to grab your audience and make them laugh. Those copywriters were probably at their peak — before the age of the Internet.
Funny, engaging content gets shared more often and stays in the popular consciousness for a long time. It breathes new life into old advertising strategies.
For example, look at Wendy’s Twitter account. The company has chosen a snarky, irreverent tone and frequently roasts other brands to get attention.
The tagline on the top of their Twitter account reads:
“We like our tweets the way we like our fries. Hot, crispy, and better than anyone expects from a fast-food restaurant.”
While the playful banter of the jester brand plays well with modern audiences, it’s easy to go too far and get attention for the wrong things. Wendy’s does an excellent job of walking that tightrope between irreverent and offensive.
Here's how you can inject humor and wit into your copy to boost conversions.
The everyman is the brand that everyone can relate to, and nobody feels threatened by. Think Ikea — chances are you bought furniture there when you were in college, or when you were in your first apartment. Their products are affordable if not generic.
Target also fits this everyman persona. It’s like Walmart, but slightly nicer. Everyone shops there — it doesn’t matter what your background may be.
The everyman archetype emphasizes equality and inclusion. Notice how diverse the actors in Target’s ads are. Diversity is always important, but for a persona like the everyman, it’s essential.
The caregiver protects customers and nurtures them so that they can grow up to be healthy and strong. Healthcare, education, and non-profits fit this archetype the best.
Caregiver brands make customers feel safe and happy. They tap into primordial needs to be cared for and loved. Johnson and Johnson leans heavily into the caregiver archetype. Their ads show happy babies and loving families.
This applies not only to products for children but also to any brand that takes care of others. Consider the Jane Goodall Institute. For the past 60 years, Goodall and her staff have been guardians of the forest, protecting and preserving our closest living relatives.
The tagline on the top of their website reads:
“She blazed the trail. The next steps are up to us.”
Caregiver brands inspire loyalty and trust. When writing copy, emphasize service, leadership, and the virtue of putting others’ needs ahead of your own.
If you were to think of a caregiver as your typical mother figure, the ruler archetype would be the father. Ruler brands are natural leaders. They’ve been in the game longer than anyone else, and they set the standard that other companies try to measure up to if they can.
While many soda brands emerged in the 20th century, only two came up on top. Coca-Cola and Pepsi. Throughout more than a century of change and more than one sugar substitute debacle, these two companies set the standard for all other non-alcoholic recreational beverages.
It’s all in one of Coca-Cola's earlier slogans — “Can’t beat the real thing.”
They’ve even ended up owning most of the rest of the other brands as they’ve continued their market dominance. In that sense, Coca-Cola and Pepsi could be considered father figures to following generations of flavored drinks.
Other ruler-type brands include Microsoft and Netflix. Microsoft pioneered the PC era, and Netflix was the first company to offer online streaming services. Where they led, other companies have followed.
Speaking of innovation, the ruler archetype bleeds over into another distinctive category, the creator. The creator matches artistic pursuits, from Crayola to Lego to Adobe Photoshop.
Creators are flexible and exciting. Think of Apple computers. While Microsoft was the first to get in on the ground floor of PC sales, Apple wasn’t far behind.
Apple provides a younger, more sensational energy than Microsoft. Think Bill Gates versus Steve Jobs. Without a doubt, Jobs was the more charismatic figure.
Apple has taken advantage of this difference. In the now-infamous “Mac versus PC” ads of the early 2000s, Apple products are youthful, energetic, and exciting. Microsoft is more like the stapler guy from “Office Space.”
If the caregiver and ruler are typical parents, then the innocent archetype would be the child in the family. Innocent brands are pure of heart and seek only joy and peace. Typical examples include beauty products and organic foods.
Dove soap is simple, honest, and inclusive. There are no hidden intentions with this brand — it wants to make you feel clean, secure, and beautiful.
Recently, their ads have featured happy, smiling women with all different body types and skin tones. It’s a bit like the Target ads, except that the emphasis is on purification and simplicity.
That brings us to another important point: there’s a lot of overlap between archetypes. While we’re mainly focusing on groups of three — Legacy, Connection, Structure, and Spirituality — an overlap between subcategories also exists.
Disney is the magician, but it’s also the innocent. Rarely does a brand fit into only one category. Even when a brand caters to one archetype, there are always elements of the others. The secret is to focus on only two or three, and not spread yourself too thin.
Sage archetypes embody wisdom and intelligence. Think Gandalf, Yoda, or your seasoned neighborhood bartender.
Sage brands have been there and done that. They can take complicated ideas and explain them so that anybody can understand and benefit from them.
Google is so synonymous with answering questions that folks don’t say, “Look it up,” or, “Type it into a search engine.” They say “Google it.” Google is the ultimate modern sage brand. You can search for anything from “Who invented the printing press?” to “What happened on Big Brother last night?”
Other sage brands include news organizations like the Associated Press and Reuters. Schools and universities often use the sage archetype. The sage characterizes any brand that informs, educates, and enlightens.
Explorers seek new challenges and meet adventure head-on. They push the limits and discover new worlds. Think of Indiana Jones. He feels restricted giving lectures in the classroom, but give him a bullwhip and a booby-trapped temple, and he thrives.
Sports equipment and SUVs often use the explorer archetype in their advertising. Patagonia sells outdoor clothing and equipment. The name refers to a wild, untamed wilderness in the southern tip of South America — the perfect place to explore.
Jeep has been making SUVs for decades. Off-roaders drive off the beaten path, through mud, gravel, and snow. You never know what you’re going to discover with an explorer brand. It promises excitement and adventure.
Copywriting is about more than explaining the benefits of your product or service. Its purpose is to build a brand that you can recognize as a living, breathing entity.
When you create a brand identity based on an archetype, you’re making it easier for the reader to “fill in the blanks” and associate your business with the unconscious images everyone shares.
But how does this compare to the competition? First of all, look at your data and decide who your competition is. A SWOT analysis will help you determine this.
Which archetypes do they use in their copywriting? Are they a good fit for the brand? Do you want to fill a similar niche, or are you hoping to offer something different?
Try writing your copy with different archetypes in mind. Are you the lovable class clown, or the dashing lothario? Which archetype fits? Which one makes your target audience want to buy what you’re selling?
Until a couple of years ago, the Pearl Milling Company marketed itself as Aunt Jemima. The smiling woman adorning the top of the package promised that their pancakes would take care of you, the way a loving mother or auntie would.
What seemed harmless a hundred years ago could land differently today. Unconscious racist images and stereotypes cloud the issue and interfere with the message you’re trying to convey to your consumers.
Pay special attention to cultural sensitivity when using an archetype for your branding strategy. Consider how it comes across to different groups of people.
Writers tend to write for an audience similar to themselves. You have to think outside of that box and imagine different demographics.
Not only do brands fit different archetypes, but so do audiences. It’s partly about what people want or need in their lives — a hero, a lover, or a caregiver.
It also corresponds to what people see in themselves. For example, a sage brand appeals to someone who’s educated and values education.
It’s not only about addressing a lack — it’s about the customer being able to picture themselves in that situation. It tunes into their identity as a person.
Archetypes aren’t just some fancy concept that a psychoanalyst dreamed up a hundred years ago. They aren’t restricted to a project or essay you’ve written for a freshman-level literature class. Understanding stories around you is the goal, and it's about universal constructs across cultures.
The outlaw, the magician, and the hero seek to leave a legacy. People live vicariously through their adventures. They also try to hold on to at least a little bit of that drive when they look for benefits in the products or services we offer.
Consumers crave a connection. Much like the lover, the jester, and the everyman, people want to be recognized and adored.
Civilization and families provide structure. The caregiver, the ruler, and the creator give us a world to grow up in, and a world to shape the way that we desire.
You can even offer a spiritual side to your copy if that’s what you need to drive more conversions. The innocent, the sage, and the explorer bring that fulfillment to a new level.
Those are the twelve major archetypes, as described by Carl Jung. Which one do you connect with the most? Which ones will be the most helpful for getting your message across to your audience? Play around with these archetypes, use different voices, and elevate your copy to a new standard.
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