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The Game of Archetypes: How Storytelling Works for Tech Brands

Reading time2 min
How’s your work week going? I took some time off publishing new articles and consulting clients to look at «The Hero and the Outlaw» by Carol Pearson and Margaret Mark. It’s a guide to leveraging the power of archetypes for your brand, and I think there’s much to learn from it.

Archetypes are properly defined as «universal constructs of the human psyche». In layman’s terms, these are images we all recognise because they’re built into our subconscious mind. One such example is the archetype of the hero  —  a good guy who triumphs over evil and saves the day.

Photo by GLPH.Media (in Russian)

It is a powerful image with an agreed upon meaning and a set of expectations that need no explanation. Much of our culture is built around archetypes. They define the way we tell stories and can be found in ancient folk tales as well as Pulitzer prize winning novels. Everything impactful  —  from works of art to advertisements  —  works on an archetypal level.

Okay, but how does it work?

Content creators, no matter the kind, can benefit from understanding the principles behind this phenomenon. Stories that inspire archetypal thinking are easier to read and digest.

Let’s say, you’ve been given a description of the 1605 Gunpowder plot, taken straight from your typical history textbook. Chances are, by the time you finish reading it, you’ll forget the bulk of what happened in the beginning.

On the other hand, if you watch a TV series on the subject, you’ll be much more likely to remember the details. Film characters come alive inside our minds as archetypes. And it’s not just about character-driven storytelling.

Photo by GLPH.Media (in Russian)

Archetypes can signal a set of values associated with your brand. Some businesses pull risqué jokes on Twitter, while others speak of «heritage» and «the national spirit». Feel the difference?

The most curious example

Corporate identity crisis is easy to spot. Brands that try to be everything at once end up being nothing in particular. They fall behind, leaving the spotlight to companies, whose archetypes are easier to recognise.

Let’s look at Apple’s recent slump through this lens. Remember their early messaging? The «Think Different» slogan, the «Tree of Knowledge» logo, the rebellious ad campaigns? It all appeals to the outlaw archetype  —  the image of someone creative, bold, and ready to challenge the status quo.

What about now? This is what Tim Cook had to say about the latest iPhone update: «We always thought … that if you provide a lot of innovation and a lot of value, there is a segment of people who are willing to pay for it. For us, it’s a large enough group of people that we can make a reasonable business out of it.»

Now, what exactly is «reasonable business»? How do you measure innovation and value? Pricing concerns aside  —  it seems to me that Apple’s consumerist attitude is destroying what’s left of its outlaw spirit. What do you think?

About the author:

dmitrykabanov works with brands to content and promote corporate culture at scale. Apart from it, Dmitry is a Techstars Startup Digest curator and SXSW tech fest advisor.

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