Archetypal Branding: The Hero
This article is Part Four in my Twelve Part Archetypal Branding Series. Boy, do I feel official; I’m writing a series! Let’s start by asking, “What is an archetype?” An archetype is a group of characteristics that help identify a subsection of an audience. They are characteristics you can incorporate into your business’s brand to help your desired audience easily identify with you or your products.
Do not confuse this with stereotyping, which typically focuses on the external characteristics of a population. Archetypes deal with the innate desires that drive us toward what we love or need. Take Nike, for instance. Nike plays on an athlete’s inner-most competitive need to be better than the rest. This competitive nature, coupled with the drive to work hard and build progress, is ideal for the Hero Archetype.
Want to learn more about the Twelve Branding Archetypes? click here to read my article about overall Archetypal Branding.
A Hero is dedicated to improving his/herself or improving the world around them. A brand that embodies the Hero Archetype will inspire its audience to do the same. Standards for the Hero are high, and if the brand fails to live up to those expectations, you can expect an amount of tarnish to your reputation.
The Hero Overview
The archetype of the Hero is commonly attributed to warriors. Whether the fight is taken up in the form of physicality, policy change, or social change, the Hero can be found on any battlefield.
MOTTO: Where there’s a will, there’s a way.
DESIRE: To prove your strengths through trials of courage and strength.
GOAL: Use mastery to improve the world.
LIFESTYLE: Self-improvement and advancement in their particular milieu - sometimes by whatever means necessary.
VISUALS: A shining sword, a winning athlete, physical power, a conqueror.
A Brand That Embodies the Hero
I’ve hinted above that some of the most common Hero brands support and appeal to athletes. This isn’t all that surprising, given that media has boosted modern athletes to the heights of mythological notoriety.
Let’s take a look at Under Armour. In the mid-2000s, Under Armour began building its reputation in the media landscape by garnering deals to place apparel in football movies like Any Given Sunday and The Replacements. In 2003 they launched a TV ad campaign that used their signature tagline, “Protect this house.”
Under Armour Ad - 2003 “Protect this house”
Not only do the images throughout the ad conjure up feelings of strength and self-improvement, but the phrasing used throughout the campaign also talks about getting to the top and staying there. You and your team are the heroes; the competition is the enemy. You must defeat your enemy at all costs. And apparently, Under Armour can help you do all of this.
Another critical feature that appeals to the Hero Archetype is the implied status of the underdog. Most athletic heroes (or so we’re led to believe) will have some story about a coach, teacher, or other authority figure telling them that they will not amount to much or are not good enough. This discouragement ends up as a compelling motivator for the Hero. They will fight to succeed and surpass all expectations to prove a point, sometimes with polarizing outcomes.
Take a look at this advertisement from 2014 featuring Misty Copeland. She became American Ballet Theatre's first female African-American principal dancer. As you watch, listen to the letter she received at the age of 13.
Under Armour Ad - 2014 “I will what I want.”
Desires of The Hero Archetype
Long gone are the stereotypes of the hero rescuing the damsel in distress. A hero can be portrayed as a lythe, feminine figure just as easily as the muscle-bound jock. It all has to do with action and messaging.
The Hero desires functionality and tools to help make the job more efficient or effective. They are crusaders and are cause-driven. But the drive to continually work often leads to burnout.
Big dreams and plans that cover a grand scale are often the results of the Hero’s desire to take on the world and beat it into submission. But once they get sucked down into the details of planning and execution, they will quickly become fixated on minor details.
Hero’s need relaxation and time to recover as much as the everyday man. That time to step away and gain perspective is essential to keeping their eyes on the prize. So healthcare and self-care brands could do well when targeting the Hero portion of their audience.
Speaking of self-improvement - no one triggers this inner desire more than the United States Army. Their tag line of “be all that you can be” is a stroke of marketing genius. It pulls at everyone’s most inner need to prove yourself.
U.S. Army Ad - 1982 “Be all that you can be.”
While the commercial from 1982 is uber cheesy, the slogan was highly effective. It ran for about 20 years before being abandoned for the much less memorable “Army of one” in 2001, then “Army Strong” in 2006, and “Warriors Wanted” in 2018. None of them have the same impact or zest, but the commercials have become much more impressive.
U.S. Army Ad - 2018 “Warriors wanted.”
Actions of the Hero Archetype
A Hero rarely calls themselves “a hero.” To do so not only sounds presumptuous (what if they don’t think you are a hero), but it also sounds arrogant and could turn off audiences. Most brands that fall into the Hero category would do better to stick with the messaging that they are just doing what is right. They are just doing what needs to be done. They are just doing their job.
If you are a B2B service provider, you can appeal to Hero business owners by offering services that they themselves lack. This campaign by Quickbooks was a great hit at small business owners or freelancers who are already overwhelmed with managing the rest of their business. They become the Hero’s sidekick in fighting the build-up of receipts and payroll documents! Which, in turn, allows you to become the Hero’s Hero.
Quickbooks Ad - 2019. “Get yours.”
Determination, development, and disregard for limits are key actions for the hero. If you can inspire, teach, or trigger your audience in a way that makes them feel like they are improving their lives in a way that will help them reach a goal, then you’ll be all set for sales.
Get on the pedestal and stay there.
While it’s true that the appearance of heroism has shifted away from the warrior to more superfluous subjects like sports and media, the primary character traits are still there. Social media helps regular people get to the top of the pedestal and forces them to prove their worth. With proper storytelling and imagery, they can stay there. If they abandon their mythos, you’ll see that “hero” crash to the ground and another put in its place, and a new story will develop around him/her.
One of the main downfalls of the Hero archetype is the tendency for pride. Any self-congratulatory action can alienate your audience, and any crack in the facade could bring your whole campaign and business to its knees.
While many brands will align themselves with celebrities or athletes to enhance their story and brand, it can take a turn for the worse when that spokesperson appears human. For example, Nike once had a contract with Oscar Pistorius, a South African Paralympic sprinter convicted of murdering his girlfriend, Reeva Steenkamp, in 2013.
While excellent in terms of visuals and content, this ad is a shining example of what can happen when you align yourself with the wrong people. Even though Pistorius had a minor role in the commercial, which first aired in 2011, Nike pulled the ad and terminated its contract.
Nike Ad - 2011. “My body is my weapon.”
Nike also had issues with celebrity athletes such as Lance Armstrong (doping scandal), Tiger Woods (sex scandal), Marion Jones (steroid use), Maria Sharapova (banned substances), Manny Pacquiao (anti-gay comments), and Ray Rice (domestic abuse) among others.
Be careful with the Hero archetype. Once you’ve been put up on that pedestal, you have to fight to stay there.
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.
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