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Brand Archetypes — Meet the Explorer

Nyla Smith | Tuesday, April 05, 2016

Finding oneself — self-realization through discovery — is the ultimate goal of the Explorer.  In our Western culture, the Explorer archetype is an undercurrent running through all of society. Brands that spring forth from this current are those that speak to the need for freedom, adventure, and independence.

This post is a part of a series on the 12 Brand Archetypes and how to use them to build a stronger brand. To learn more, read the introduction here.

All About the Explorer

The Explorer

  • Promise: Forge your own path.
  • Core desire: The freedom of discovery: of oneself and the world
  • Goal: To experience a fulfilling and authentic life
  • Fear: Inner emptiness or feeling trapped
  • Strategy: Seek out new things
  • Gift: Ambition
  • Motivation: Independence and fulfillment

The Explorer archetype stems from a need to be individualistic and have purpose or meaning. This archetype strives to answer the questions “What am I here for? What is my purpose?” by exploring and learning from the world around it. Adventure is a means of enlightenment, and the Explorer is focused on self-discovery and self-sufficiency.

Tending to be critical of the establishment, the Explorer desires to be free from constraints. But instead of challenging the establishment (as a Hero or Outlaw might), the Explorer simply goes off in a different direction, seeking a new path. Ultimately, all it desires is the freedom and joy of discovery.

This archetype can be seen in brands such as NASA, National Geographic, The Body Shop, and Jeep.

The Explorer in Action

Out of all 12 archetypes, the Explorer is one that is less obviously tied to a particular industry or category. The Explorer archetype can very legitimately be expressed in cosmetics and fashion just as well as it can in a rugged outdoorsy brand.

Explorer brands are often ground-breaking or pioneering. Any brand, in any industry, that veers off the beaten path and forges its own, is tapping into Explorer tendencies. Nonconformity is one of the hallmarks of an Explorer brand.

The organizational culture of a brand may also define it as an Explorer. A culture that values individuality and de-emphasizes rules are typical for Explorer brands, giving employees the leeway to reach goals however they see fit. The organizational structure of an Explorer brand is decentralized and democratic, and tends towards virtual workers and tools as opposed to having employees boxed in a cubicle.

The Different Levels of the Explorer Archetype

Every archetype can be expressed at varying levels. The lower levels are less mature, while higher levels are more developed.

Level 1 of the Explorer is very straightforward, expressed by exploring the world and getting out into nature.

Level 2 is expressed when the exploration turns inward into discovering what makes oneself unique. It is the process of seeking one's own individuality.

Level 3 is reached when the journey has led to one's own Promised Land, a place of knowing who you are, with freedom to be completely true to who one is and express that uniqueness fully.

All in the Family

There are different facets of the Explorer that can surface, based on what attributes are strongest. The book Archetypes in Branding breaks the archetype down into sub-archetypes for a total of five (including the primary Explorer) to round out the family.

  1. Explorer
    Independent and brave, the Explorer is motivated to experience new things. Pushing boundaries and taking risks are commonplace. The challenges that can arise throughout this quest are the tendencies to become alienated or wander aimlessly without true progress.

  2. Adventurer
    The Adventurer is daring and spontaneous, with a "no fear" attitude. This sub-archetype is recognized by its taste for danger and thrill — the rush of adrenaline is its lifeline. This addiction to adrenaline, however, could make it tough for the Adventurer to find happiness in the more mundane aspects of life.

  3. Pioneer
    The Pioneer is known for being the first to break ground. Innovative and driven, this sub-archetype blazes new paths. In the Pioneer’s quest for discovery, it should be careful to avoid burnout or dissatisfaction with being less than #1.

  4. Generalist
    The Generalist believes that the entire world is open for experience and therefore is stimulated to explore many divergent areas. The Generalist has a great diversity of talents and knowledge, and this broad understanding may earn him the label of a Renaissance man. The challenge? Overstating or misrepresenting its level of knowledge.

  5. Seeker
    The Seeker continuously strives to grow and learn. Tireless and ambitious, the Seeker leaves no stone unturned in its path to find meaning. Finding joy in discovering rather than relationships, the Seeker is constantly on the go, which unfortunately, can lead to loneliness and alienation.

Real World Examples of Explorer Brands


Hello, quintessential Explorer. After this commercial for Jeep, nothing more needs to be said. The song, which includes lyrics: “4 by 4 by land, 4 by 4 by sea, 4 by 4 by air 'cause they like to fly free … For my country how it all started out … doin' it yourself 'cause you want it done right … top down, stars keep you up at night” might just be the anthem for all Explorers.


REI, the outdoor sports retailer, is well-known by participants of outdoor activities like hiking, skiing, or cycling. We only need look at REI’s Instagram feed to see the Explorer spirit alive and well. A recent video campaign also highlights this love of the outdoors. As one of the campaign producers elaborates on the process, he hits on the core of the Explorer quest. "REI isn't about extreme sports or getting outside and doing crazy stuff, instead, it's about how being outside brings something out of you.” In the video featured below, the subject discusses how exploring the woods and becoming a “trail angel” helped him overcome his own struggles with depression and an abusive childhood.


Nothing says Explorer like journeying into the vast unknown voids of space. NASA’s 2015 Year in Review video pretty much sums it up. “Off the Earth, For the Earth”

The Body Shop

The Body Shop, when it first started, was a pioneering brand. It campaigned for ethical business practices and safe natural cosmetics before these ideas were mainstream.That core of authenticity, doing things differently, and making the world better, has remained even now, 30 years later. The Explorer archetype is further strengthened in their commercial below that takes us on a journey to Ethiopa, so we can see how the honey used in their products is sourced (with Fair Trade practices).

The Explorer Consumer

To market to Explorer consumers, a brand needs to really understand their mindset. Explorer consumers are trying to figure out their place in the world. This manifests abundantly in the younger generation – from pink-haired pre-teens attempting to assert their independence and figure out who they are to recent college graduates taking a year off to “find themselves”.

But Explorer consumers are not just the young. The Explorer consumer can also be someone in the throes of a mid-life crisis, looking for new experiences to make himself feel alive. Or an entrepreneur launching out to start a business because she wants to do things the way she believes it should be done.

Explorer consumers may enjoy outdoor sports, not necessarily for competitive reasons, but rather to engage in nature through solitary pursuits like long-distance running or biking. They are wary of being tied down and may shy away from things like marriages and mortgages.

The Explorer consumer may be either

  • Energetic, enthusiastic, and eager OR
  • Suffocated, searching, and alienated

Or, most commonly, a combination of both. The Explorer is often caught in a dilemma between expressing individuality and being too different. In this vein, Explorer consumers respond well to brands that can seem to empathize with the internal desires and conflicts they face, and yet promise a reward worth seeking out.

The Explorer consumer values brands that are authentic. Skeptical of advertising hype, they are more convinced by organic buzz — real people spreading the word about a brand or experience. The restless Explorer isn’t big on brand loyalty. Change is a natural state of mind, after all. So, to win devoted Explorer consumers, a brand must be able to tap directly into the archetypal values of freedom and individuality, and express those values authentically.

Is Your Brand an Explorer?

Does your brand feel at home in the wilderness of nature? Or does it help people discover new things? Maybe it focuses on nonconformity and enabling people to find freedom and express their individuality. If any of these things strike a chord with you, you may be an Explorer brand archetype.

Still not sure which archetype defines your brand? Take the brand archetype quiz to find out your results and then check out an overview of the 12 brand archetypes to learn more.

Nyla Smith is a Graphic Designer, Web Designer, Front-End Web Developer and Consultant with over 13 years of experience. She is the owner of n-Vision Designs, LLC in Hampton, Virginia, which exists to provide marketing support and brand consulting to small- and medium-sized businesses needing creative solutions. Contact Nyla if you'd like to discuss your next creative project. She can usually be bribed to a meeting with a cup of green tea and an oatmeal cookie.
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