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  • Writer's pictureJeanette Johnson

Archetypal Branding: The Explorer

Tapping into time tested stories and translating them into current and relevant tales is a challenge for any story teller. This is where archetypes come in. Archetypes are engrained traits that every person has in one measure or another. They are easily identifiable themes that touch on the inner most desires of a person. And we can use these themes to help customers attach themselves to your brand.

If you want to learn more about archetypes in branding, click here to read my article about overall Archetypal Branding before we tackle this deep dive into the Explorer Archetype.

The Explorer Archetype in branding strategy.

It’s important to note that every person can experience each archetype in one form or another. The woman who works as a CFO will be attracted to luxury and status, but she might also have a desire to sit in her deer stand all weekend to capture a prize buck. A person can be attracted to Harley-Davidson in the same way they might feel a pull toward Ben & Jerry’s.

The Explorer Overview

The Explorer is constantly searching for new adventures and ways to lead. They are always the trailblazer and willing to accept the new and exciting.

MOTTO: Don’t fence me in

DESIRE: Discovering themselves as they discover the world.

GOAL: Having a more authentic life through experiences.

LIFESTYLE: Experience the world.

VISUALS: Rugged mountains, awe inspiring physical feats, wide-open sky, and unencumbered landscapes.

The Explorer embraces the unknown and seeks adventure. Their natural habitats are represented by wide open spaces and mountains that are begging to be climbed. Wandering through an untouched wilderness speaks to their soul. The thought of sitting at a desk all day is enough to make them antsy and they yearn for time to get out and explore. Even if they can’t travel the world, they will find ways to get a fix in their own backyard, or as near as possible.

A Brand That Embodies the Explorer

A brand that embodies the Explorer Archetype is one that appeals to the adventurous side of their audience. The Explorer has the desire to find freedom and has the pull to seek out new experiences. Brands that typically fall into this archetype are SUV/ATV brands such as Jeep and Polaris or outerwear companies like the North Face. These brands show imagery of wider spaces, untrodden pathways through nature, and the innate drive of humanity to seek the unknown.

Using the language ”it goes where it wants to go and does what it wants to do,” Jeep is the epitome of an Explorer brand. You can’t fence these people in nor would you want to. The explorer thrives on their connection with the world, even if it is their own small piece. They want to conquer anything that gets thrown at them.

This ad shows rugged terrains, mountainesque dessert scenery and the only tool you’ll need to defeat the challenges of nature: a Jeep.

If the visuals alone don’t inspire the Explorer inside of you, listen to the deep, gravelly voice-over. It implies that he’s seen a thing or two and tackled his own challenges, so you should trust him to give you the right tools to get the job done.

Desires of The Explorer Archetype

An express desire of the Explorer is to seek. To seek what? Well - new places, experiences, and outlooks on life - for starters. With the world being so open in this day and age (outside of social distancing guidelines due to COVID-19 Pandemic – heck, I guess even in that we share an aspect of globalism) it’s easier than ever to strike a chord with the adventurous nature of the Explorer. Take iFit for instance, while this fitness platform has been around since 2013, their recent partnership with NordicTrack has propelled them into new heights.

They tout their trainer-led workouts as a way to see the world. This is a perfect marriage for a fitness brand like NordicTrack. Explorers enjoy sports, not specifically for the competitive aspect but because of the challenge it presents. Kayaking, biking, hiking, and long-distance running are all ways that a person can compete with and within nature.

iFit digitally streams videos led by a team of trainers who have been sent across the globe. Sessions are held in far-flung places like the coasts of Croatia, the cliffs of South Africa, and the volcanoes of Hawaii. These scenic routes appeal to the explorers desire to experience new places and to “tackle mountains” in a whole new way.

Actions of the Explorer Archetype

Quintessentially young at heart, the Explorer retains his/her youthful outlook on life. While still in their development stage, 16 to 20-somethings on a global scale exude the Explorer because they are still figuring out where they fit into the world. They search for ways to find “their own voice” which strikes an individualistic chord that I’ll discuss in the next section.

For many young people, the Explorer takes shape when they leave home for college or to enter the wider world. Colleges can take on the Explorer archetype in these situations as they promise new roads to new experiences - good (educationally) or bad (drugs and alcohol).

You can find an explorer in the Cabela’s outdoor brand. Their ads touch on the connection that hunters and sportsmen/women feel with nature. Camping and hunting gear aside, Cabela’s messaging has always featured a connection with the great outdoors and with the way our ancestors made a mark on the territory they trod. You can see it in this spot from 2016:

The Explorer has a tendency to combine with the “Outlaw” because they are mould breakers and the “Hero” because of their desire to overcome all obstacles. But don’t get your wires crossed. Any messaging that appears confused or unauthentic to the emotional desires of the Explorer will result in an alienated group that won’t buy into your brand.

The Hero fights to make the world better while the Explorer just makes their own rules. But don’t confuse this individuality with selfishness. An Explorer is as concerned with the environment and improving the world as any of the other twelve archetypes. They just have to express it in their own way.

Uniquely Individual

Another tactic to appeal to the Explorer: individuality. While some cultures and locals in the world focus on relational traditions and the importance of the “group”, the Explorer feels more of an individual pull. Keying into the motto, “don’t fence me in”, you can appeal to this base by offering choices: color, size, functionality options, etc.

Take a look at the Discovery network’s “The Last Alaskans”. A show about a band of homesteaders making a life for themselves in the 19 million acre Arctic National Wildlife Refuge. These people live on the fringes of society, not because they are forced to, but because that’s where the adventure is.

The "Last Alaskans" choose the life of subsistence living because they want the challenge and the satisfaction of overcoming adversity and making a life that isn’t dependent on a nine-to-five paycheck. They are living in the scenery and experiencing the exact depiction of the Explorer.

Implementing the Explorer

For those brands wanting to market to the Explorer, you need to tell your journey. Your journey is unique to you and no one else will have the same experience in the same way at the same time. Each hurdle you jump and each mountain peak you summit is proof that you’ve carved a path through the corporate wilderness to find a piece of the world that is your own.

Explorer walking across a beach next to the mountains.

Photo by Tom Swinnen from Pexels

The vast wealth of stories to which you can relate your brand is endless: the Knights of the Round Table's search for the Holy Grail, the pilgrims crossing on the Mayflower, pioneers crossing the plains in the Great Western Expansion, or even something as simple as “the Ugly Duckling.” Each of these stories tells of a journey - both inward enlightenment and existential wandering. Tapping into these time-tested themes can help you reach a core audience that is willing to join you in your adventure.


Over the next few months I will be writing articles that explore each of the 12 Archetypes I discussed in this original article. My main source for these articles is “the Hero and the Outlaw: Building Extraordinary Brands Through the Power of Archetypes”, by Margaret Mark and Carol S. Pearson.

Be sure to subscribe to my blog (click Sign In at the top of the page) while you're here and then make sure you follow me on Facebook to see updates for the latest posts and images of current projects. Happy branding!

Pin image for The Explorer Archetype article.

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