What Are Archetypes and How Do I Use Them in Storytelling? Part II
How to use different archetypes to appeal to your audience's aspirations
Also co-authored by Eliana Reyes, Hattaway Communications.
In a previous article, we introduced archetypes and how they can be used in social impact storytelling. Now it’s time to learn which archetypes can best help tell your organization’s story.
Different archetypes help you appeal to the various aspirations that your audience has for themselves. These aspirations are universal, such as a desire for safety or accomplishment or connection with other people. This framework, developed by Margaret Mark and Carol Pearson places 12 archetypes into one of four fundamental motivations: Mastery, Belonging, Stability and Independence. Each archetype approaches their motivation in a different way.
Many nonprofits may find themselves falling in this category because of their desire to find solutions that make a difference in the world. Archetypes in this category want to take risks and change the world. They are willing to stand up and overcome the challenges that block their paths to create a better tomorrow.
You are likely familiar with the Hero archetype, who wants to defend the downtrodden and save people. This archetype can be used to motivate people to push beyond what they see as their limits in order to accomplish their goals, associating it with the strength to overcome obstacles. Because this archetype is looking to prove itself and rise to meet challenges, it is useful for organizations who want to evoke the idea that they may be in a “fight” for something, such as fighting against cancer.
With so many organizations hoping to save the world, the Hero archetype is an obvious choice for many. Mark and Pearson point to the March of Dimes in their book, with a call to action that sounds like a battle cry and the desire to give babies “a fighting chance.” Though Doctors Without Borders could go for the Explorer or Caregiver angle, their emphasis on saving lives and going beyond borders to where “the need is greatest” aligns them with the Hero. Even the household dish soap Dawn uses the Hero archetype when talking about their social impact by showing how their soap is gentle enough to save wildlife affected by oil spills but that it is tough on the grease and oil.
The flip side to the Hero is the Revolutionary archetype. The Revolutionary has a strong belief in values that may not be seen in dominant social structures. Because its role is to exist as somewhat of an outlier to the rest of society, this archetype is useful when appealing to people who feel alienated. The Revolutionary is motivated to overcome structures that may be limiting and hold people back from achieving their full potential. Like the Hero, the Revolutionary may become aligned with the idea of a “fight” but usually for the cause of freedom against a prevailing structure. Using the Revolutionary will help you appeal to the side of people that is enticed by riskier situations and willing to be a pioneer by going against convention. A simple way of doing this could just be stressing how your organization’s method goes against the norm. To get more young people to voting booths, Rock the Vote acts as a pioneer by trying to find new and unconventional ways for young people to be politically engaged.
The Magician archetype wants to change the world by harnessing the power to create miracles. This archetype’s path to helping people achieve their goals comes through unlocking the secrets of how the world works. An emphasis on miracles may associate the Magician with healing or finding an innovative way to make things easier for the people you are serving. Though this archetype seeks to change the world like the Hero and the Revolutionary, the idea of transformation is strongest in the Magician. One organization tapping into the transformational power of the Magician is Make-a-Wish, acting as the fairy godparent who grants wishes to children with life threatening diseases.
Archetypes in this category channel people’s desire to connect with each other. Many social impact organizations are seeking to connect with the people they serve—and with others who will help them support these people. Using these archetypes will help you appeal to audiences who seek to ally with and lift up others.
At the heart of many great social movements is the Everyperson archetype. When striving for equality, the Everyperson archetype helps by stressing the inherent dignity of every single person—because everyone matters just as they are, and all people should have a seat at the table. While the Lover archetype conveys a more intimate sort of belonging, the Everyperson evokes the idea of belonging to a group and wanting to pitch in. Being in a community means helping each other out. This folksy, down-to-earth attitude puts the Everyperson archetype at odds with elitism, making it useful for groups that want to level the playing field. Talking about how your organization seeks to bring equality for everyone can help you use this archetype. The International Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Trans and Intersex Association (ILGA) is made up of more than 1100 organizations across the world who have come together to bring freedom to LGBTQ people in all areas of life.
The intimacy of the Lover archetype may often be associated with romantic love, but it covers more than that. The Lover helps create deeper connections than the Everyperson by making people feel special, valued and appreciated. Using this archetype can be helpful when you are trying to create a sense of real trust, such as when you may be laying yourself bare with all of your vulnerabilities. Along with the Creator archetype, the Lover is also useful for organizations that support the arts because of its passion for beautiful things. For organizations looking to use the Lover archetype, it may be useful to highlight the close connections between people. The nonprofit To Write Love on Her Arms channels the Lover archetype by emphasizing meaningful relationships to help support those struggling with mental illness, letting them know that they are not alone.
Organizations that want to emphasize that life should be enjoyed by everyone may turn towards the Jester archetype. Similar to the Revolutionary, the Jester doesn’t place too much value in rules because of its playful spirit. Its willingness to challenge convention has many benefits, such as encouraging innovation or being in a position to point out flaws with the status quo or people in power. The Jester fosters a sense of belonging through the core desire for everyone to have more fun, making others feel light-hearted and comfortable. These archetypal traits may be useful for organizations who want to be associated with cleverness and out-of-the-box thinking. This unorthodox way of thinking combined with creativity formed the basis of the ad campaign for the College of Creative Studies, which encouraged students to pursue education in the arts. Rather than going for a Creator vibe, they parodied old anti-drug public service announcements, delivering a light-hearted message about the positive addiction of the arts while telling parents to “talk to [their] kids about art school.”
The Stability category contains one of the most prominent archetypes for nonprofits to use, the Caregiver. These archetypes are motivated by safety and ensuring that everything in the world is in order and under control. They seek to provide structure in a chaotic world.
Due to many organizations’ missions to support and give aid to people, the Caregiver may be an obvious choice as an archetype. It embodies our desire to take care of other people and support them. It also appeals to the part of us that wants to make sure that our loved ones are safe. When the archetype is communicating at its highest levels, that care is extended to all living things. The characteristics associated with this archetype are embodied in a good caregiving relationship: empathy, communication, consistency and trust. Showing that your work helps the people you serve is one way to use the Caregiver archetype. With a vision to lift up all children so that they can find success, Big Brothers Big Sisters embodies the Caregiver by providing a supportive role model to children who face adversity.
If your organization is seeking to be a leader, the Ruler may be the right archetype to embrace. On a lower level, the Ruler is associated with a desire for prestige—because a higher status opens the door to more opportunities. But most importantly, this archetype seeks to create structure and order in the world because that organization is what keeps people safe. Often, this means that the Ruler archetype is associated with a pursuit for power, which bestows the ability to create structure. As the saying goes, “With great power comes great responsibility.” And responsibility is a key factor to emphasize when using the Ruler archetype. If your organization wants to be a model and set the standards in your field, the Ruler may be worth exploring.
Playing either to the need for order or responsibility is one way to use the Ruler archetype. The World Health Organization, which could have been associated with being a Caregiver because of the relation with health, instead uses the Ruler. They talk about their work as coordination, directing and creating systems that bring order and efficiency to international health.
For the Creator, self-expression is the means to bringing structure to the world. This archetype is creative and innovative, bearing similarities to the Magician with its desire to bring forth something new in the world. Groups that are seeking support for a new invention or process that will have a large, positive impact on the world may see the Creator archetype as useful. Like the Sage, the Creator is also useful in the education field because of its emphasis on creativity, a do-it-yourself attitude and finding new ways of thinking. The educational program FIRST Robotics focuses on teaching students about engineering, science and technology. But rather than framing it as the pursuit of knowledge, they seek to inspire students to build robots—and create new solutions to different problems.
Archetypes in this category are more willing to go off the beaten path. They may be associated with idealism because they are looking for “Paradise.” Their desire for self-fulfillment and belief that a perfect world is possible gives them the drive to do things differently from others.
The Innocent archetype seeks to return to a time when life was enjoyable and simple. Its idealism leads to a belief that if certain enduring values are followed, then the world can be put on a path towards becoming perfect. Perfection entails a belief that all people should be free to be who they are. This belief in a world where perfection is actually attainable is the Innocent’s driving motivation, and is useful for many organizations that seek to make the world a better place. Additionally, the Innocent has other facets that associate it with the idea of rebirth and new beginning. This archetype is imbued with a desire for purity in life, which may come from spirituality or even nature, making it useful for organizations who want to preserve the environment and what it has to offer.
A few ways of using the idealism of the Innocent archetype might be to talk about second chances or letting people be themselves. The LGBT Task Force is a good example of an organization that strives for equality, like the Everyperson archetype. But their message is simply “Be You,” with a mission to make sure that people are free to be who they are. Another example is the social enterprise Clean Decisions, which employs former inmates. By giving them a job cleaning commercial kitchens and food trucks, Clean Decisions is creating the new beginnings associated with the Innocent archetype, while also channeling its characteristic of purity through the work being done.
While the Innocent believes that paradise can be made to happen anywhere, the Explorer is actively on a journey in search of it. At a most basic level, this archetype is associated with wanderlust and people who want to go out to discover new things. However, because the Explorer is on a journey, it reaches people who may feel like outsiders but want to find themselves and a place where they can be who they truly are. This archetype speaks to people who are willing to take a tough stance on the things they believe in, who see themselves as ahead of their times. This forward-thinking attitude can be mindfully and sensitively combined with the Explorer’s interest in foreign things and places to support global causes. Social enterprise RUNA connects their consumers to the Amazon by making them a part of a system that life up the people who live in the rainforest through the guayusa tea and by creating sustainable jobs.
Organizations in different geographic locations need to be aware of the emphasis that different cultures place on certain values, though: the Explorer archetype and its independence are appealing in many Western cultures may not have as strong of an allure in other ones. Organizations also need to be careful that when using this archetype, they convey a sense of authenticity and help educate their audiences about the decisions they are making.
The Sage, like the Magician, has a deep hunger for learning. Its search for paradise manifests in the belief that humanity’s ability to use knowledge is the key to finding perfection. The Sage is clearly a good choice for institutions that are dedicated to researching how to improve the world. Independence is invoked by the Sage’s choice to make its own informed decisions, because knowledge is where solutions lie. This archetype is motivated by a desire to learn, making it useful for organizations that stress education; wanting to make information more available for people, such as with government transparency; or if the cause you are championing heavily relies on data and information to support its causes. The Sunlight Foundation is one example of an organization that uses the Sage archetype to advocate for government transparency. They use research and technology to make data available and understandable to the public, even creating apps that easily connect citizens and government information.
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