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Brand Archetypes — Meet the Hero

Nyla Smith | Tuesday, February 23, 2016

The courageous triumph over adversity is the defining characteristic of the Hero archetype. Finding deep satisfaction, exhilaration, and purpose in this feat, the Hero archetype displays great tenacity to achieve it, with a “never give up” attitude. We’ve all been inspired — or saved — by a hero… where would we be without them?

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 Hero

The Hero

  • Promise: Where there is a will, there is a way.
  • Core desire: To prove worth through difficult action
  • Goal: To exert mastery in a way that improves the world
  • Fear: Weakness or quitting
  • Strategy: Become as competent as possible
  • Gift: Courage
  • Motivation: Mastery

The Hero archetype is all about rising to the challenge, and it instinctively seeks to protect and inspire others. Whether on the battleground, ball field, or political stage, the Hero is determined to leave a mark on the world, often at the risk of great sacrifice.

The Hero often must make tough decisions and think on its feet. The quintessential Hero seeks out challenges or feels ‘called’ to right a wrong, or both. The challenge to overcome may be humanitarian — to save the world at large — but may also manifest as a grandiose personal aspiration, like a resolve to scale Mount Everest.

It’s easy to picture comic book superheros as iconic of this archetype. But in our everyday lives, we can look at Michael Jordan, Nelson Mandela, the Marines, Nike, and Red Cross as examples of the Hero.

The Hero Brand in Action

The Hero archetype is a natural fit for philanthropic organizations or businesses that have corporate social responsibility as a core tenant of their existence. Along with social initiatives, the Hero is easily manifest through athletic brands and the military. These are brands that represent or help people develop discipline, focus, and strength.

The marketing of a Hero brand will often use powerful images and strong colors to communicate. It may use nature-inspired imagery that metaphorically represents a challenge, like tall mountains or rugged terrain. Definitive lines and shapes and roughness or texture will play a part in the visuals as well. The language will be idealistic, challenging, or noble — essentially saying “I dare you”, in a manner of speaking.

The organizational culture of a Hero brand is typically achievement-oriented, holds itself to high standards, and requires dedication. In an unhealthy organization, this may foster competition and employee burnout. In a healthy organization, there is a clear sense of convictions that are lived out daily and fuels the passion to make a difference and overcome challenges.

The Different Levels of the Hero Archetype

Each archetype can be experienced or expressed at different levels. The lower levels are less mature while higher levels are more developed.

In Level 1, the Hero displays the ability to overcome — competence as demonstrated through achievement or victory in competition.

Level 2 shows the Hero archetype faithfully serving others, often out of duty, commitment, or conviction.

In Level 3, the Hero uses its strength and courage to make the world better. This requires the greatest level of sacrifice.

All in the Family

There are different aspects of the Hero archetype that can emerge, based on the strength of various attributes. The book Archetypes in Branding breaks these nuances down into sub-archetypes (including the primary Hero) for a total of five in the family.

  1. Hero
    The Hero is represented by sacrifice, courage, faith, and strength. This archetype lives to triumph over adversity, and will overcome great odds to facilitate transformation. The downfall for the Hero may be triggered by an exaggerated sense of self-importance.

  2. Warrior
    In a word: fearless. The assertive Warrior has a strong sense of duty coupled with a healthy dose of bravery. Add to this a tactical mode of attack, and the Warrior is strong on strategy. The Achilles heel for this sub-archetype is a victory-at-all-costs mentality, in which the assertiveness turns a bit too aggressive.

  3. Athlete
    The Athlete’s goals revolve around physical ability and mental focus. Disciplined and achievement oriented, the Athlete is relentless in pursuit of a goal. The desire to be bigger, stronger, faster, and better is natural for this sub-archetype. The Athlete must be careful, though, not to use its physicality to bully or harm.

  4. Rescuer
    The Rescuer swoops in with a heart full of bravery to help others in need. With intuitive sensibilities and quick reflexes, the Rescuer becomes a familiar face in times of dire circumstances. The trap for the Rescuer? The misguided need to save someone just to prove its own worth.

  5. Liberator
    Fighting on behalf of the disenfranchised and powerless, the Liberator is a champion for humanitarian rights, justice, and equality. With strong convictions and a resolute hope, this sub-archetype does not accept defeat. The temptation for the Liberator is to allow the end to justify the means, however blurry the morality. Its staunch view of righteousness and justice can lead to revenge-seeking.

Examples of Hero Brands

Nike does Hero oh-so-well. Representing level one of the Athlete sub-archetype in the following commercial, Nike challenges every one of us to overcome the enemy within (our fears, doubts, and insecurities) …of course ending with the ultimate challenge — to Find Your Greatness.


The Red Cross is an example of the Rescuer sub-archetype at the higher level, providing disaster relief and emergency response to those in time of need. Their 2015 year-in-review video combines an inspirational audio track with moving photos of those affected by a disaster along with those helping them through it.


The International Labour Organization exists to promote social justice, human rights, and labor rights. Their video below speaks very aspirationally about the importance of social justice and ultimately asks the question “How can social justice be achieved for all?”

 

The Hero Consumer

The Hero consumer is typically achievement-oriented and competitive — even if just against oneself. In the quest to prove themselves, Hero consumers have a desire to develop their character or physical ability, and are often tenaciously dedicated to overcoming challenges.

Hero consumers often see themselves as good, moral people; and, naturally, they are attracted to brands that demonstrate their convictions. Therefore, to win a Hero consumer’s heart, a brand must realize it is being evaluated on much more than just its product offering, but on the strength of its moral convictions.

Is Your Brand a Hero?

Take a look at your brand. Is it fighting an invisible enemy to address a social problem? Is it challenging people to get stronger and perform at their full potential? Is your underdog product actually the next big thing to change the world? If this resonates with you, your brand may be a Hero 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, and Front-End Web Developer with over 11 years of experience. She is the owner of n-Vision Designs, LLC in Hampton, Virginia, which exists to provide marketing support to small- and medium-sized businesses that need 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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