Commentary

Archetypes In Boomer Branding

The Hero and the Outlaw is a seminal work in the way we understand branding in the modern age. Written in 2001 by Margaret Mark and Carol Pearson, the book employs real-world examples to help readers understand how organizations have crafted the public perception of their business. The core of the books revolves around the 12 brand archetypes, which the authors created as an extension of the works of psychoanalyst Carl Jung. 

Today, many branding experts have adopted these 12 archetypes as a basis for their work, which is a testament to the power the archetypes hold. Whether young or old, Millennial or Boomer, brand archetypes are designed to engage target consumers and make them brand-loyal over time.

First, let's all get on the same page, with a quick rundown of the 12 archetypes.

  1. Magicians make dreams come true.
  2. Sages seek truth.
  3. Innocents just want to be happy.
  4. Outlaws seek revolution.
  5. Jesters live in the moment.
  6. Lovers make you theirs.
  7. Explorers set you free.
  8. Rulers desire power.
  9. Caregivers nurture those around them.
  10. Heroes prove themselves.
  11. Regular guys/gals just want to belong.
  12. Creators seek perfection.

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As you read that list, did any of those specific traits jump out at you as more or less appealing? Certainly, different age groups are going to be attracted to various traits, for many reasons. Boomers who grew up in the hippie subculture might value outlaws and jesters, while those who are veterans may feel drawn to heroes and rulers. 

If your brand is trying to appeal to Boomers, what traits should you be looking to embrace? Let's take a look at three iconic Boomer brands, as identified by CNBC, and see what they might have in common. 

Harley-Davidson

Archetype: Outlaw

Motorcycles came of age right alongside the Boomers. Thanks to such films as “Easy Rider,” “The Wild One” and others, riding a bike became quintessentially cool just as Boomers were growing up. Harley-Davidson hit the motorcycle market with a stylish machine that became the icon of an industry. Today, if you see a Boomer riding a bike, he or she is most likely to be riding a Harley bike — or that of a competitor that has similar stylistic finishes. 

In an August 2017 feature, the Los Angeles Times reviewed statistics for motorcycle ownership and use in California. The median age of a motorcycle owner in the Golden State was 45 years old — up from 33 years old in 1990. But, if you dig a little deeper into the data, you'll find that nearly 40% of the respondents surveyed were over the age of 50, compared with just 10% during the 1990 survey. The average biker in California is overwhelmingly male, well-educated and of means. Sounds like a great target demographic for a brand that sells high-end product to brand-loyal consumers!

Absolut Vodka

Archetype: Creator

If you went to a bar in the 1960s, chances are you weren't ordering vodka. Even into the 1970s, darker liquors, such as whiskey and rum, remained the staple base for cocktails. After all, most of the vodka being marketed at this time was from Russian sources — and Russia was the enemy. Then, Absolut Vodka hit the American market in 1979, just as a generation of Boomers was coming out of its homes and into drinking establishments.

The brand adopted a distinct bottle shape and embraced its Swedish heritage, banking on clean lines with a clear spirit. This strategy was then adapted through partnerships with well-known creatives like Andy Warhol. Absolut made it cool to drink vodka. Today, the vodka business is second only to whisky in global liquor sales. 

Coach Handbags

Archetype: Ruler

The term “yuppie” is almost synonymous with the 1980s — a time when Boomers were climbing the corporate ladder. Certain brands allied themselves with the yuppie movement, becoming status symbols for their owners. Coach was most certainly one of those brands. In 1981, Coach opened its first directly operated store in the heart of yuppie-dom: Madison Avenue in New York.

Before long, any woman wanting to show that she had "made it" owned a Coach-branded bag. Today, Coach is as popular as ever, with women still clamoring for its products at branded stores around the country. The love of Coach is now transcending generations, as younger women are embracing the brand, which started with the consumer culture of their parents.

At the end of the day, what do these three brands and their archetypes have in common? They all tapped directly into a feeling at the moment they were created and then bought into their archetype with ruthless exclusivity. Harley doesn't apologize for being an outlaw, and Coach doesn't cut corners to become more accessible; they understand their brands and the identities they've created. They live this every day.

As professionals who market to Boomers, we have to ask ourselves: “How are we aligning the brands we work with to appeal to Boomer values? Can our products employ nostalgia to bring back a feeling from the past, or should they tap into the current Boomer zeitgeist to drive sales?” This is why marketing to Boomers can be so challenging yet so fun — there are so many options! 

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