Digital Marketing Agency

This is where our staff and co-founders rant, rave, and reflect to give you a better insight into our agency.

category vs archetype

Posted on: August 30th, 2013

“What categories do you service?”

No offense to the marketing managers and CMO’s of the world, but that question is about twenty years outdated, and if you’re asking an agency that question, you need to read this.

Why is that question outdated? Because it comes from an old advertising model where the category of a brand dictated the brand message strategy. Every company in a category was expected to have the same brand message, and it was only about who executed better. The problem? That’s not branding. At least, that’s not branding at its highest, most effective level. A brand is not automatically defined by the category it rests in. That may be part of it, but sometimes it’s completely irrelevant. So what is a brand? I see a brand, specifically the archetype, or personality of a brand, as being a mix of a few things:


  • The personality and vision of the executive team who filters that culture throughout the organization
  • The inherent personality of the product based on its definitive benefits
  • The personality of the target customer for the product


I’m sure the first thing you noticed there is the threading of the word “personality.” This is important for many reasons. People (read: consumers) are not inherently drawn to product benefits, features, or even designs. Those are the secondary factors. The primary driver is the gut instinct stuff, the ineffable “I relate to this” stuff. And that X-Factor is created by the personification of a brand. People do not relate to inanimate objects. They relate to people who are similar to them. The personification of a brand is what allows for a company to cross over from being a “product in a category” to something that consumers can latch onto emotionally.


What does this mean for marketing managers when selecting the right agency? It means stop asking what categories an agency specializes in, and start asking what archetypes and brand personalities an agency specializes in

There are many ways to segment brand archetypes, but for the sake of cohesion, I will use the ones from the groundbreaking work of Margaret Mark and Carol Pearson in their book “The Hero and the Outlaw.” Their work is a master class on progressive advertising strategy and well worth a weekend of absorption, but here is a quick breakdown of their brand identities.

advertising archetypes

For JCM, our sweet-spot archetypes are The Innocent, The Explorer, The Caregiver, The Sage, The Regular Guy/Gal, and The Jester. The reason for this has less to do with our experience working on these archetypes (although we have plenty), but rather the personalities that we have on our creative team, the personality and culture of JCM as an agency, and our ability to tap into the core motivations of consumers who share these sentiments.

So why is archetype experience better than category experience? It’s simple. It’s because an understanding of a brand’s personality and how to communicate and execute that message, regardless of media platform, is going to (by definition) resonate with customers stronger than mere category experience.

Let’s look at a category that hits close to home in Michigan – Auto. Car brands have very distinctive archetypes, and experience with one auto brand probably doesn’t set the stage for success with another.

Brand Archetype
Dodge The Explorer
Volkswagen The Innocent
Tesla The Magician
BMW The Ruler
Ford The Hero

An ad campaign that is massively successful for Dodge will never be successful for BMW because the target customer has a different set of values. So when you are looking for the right agency partner, stop asking about category experience, and find out how well they understand your brand archetype and your customer’s personality.