What Joseph Campbell Can Teach Us About Marketing

George Lucas created Star Wars and sold for over $4 Billion (yes, billion with a 'B'). 

What if I told you that George credits a large portion of his success to a man you probably haven't heard of — Joseph Campbell.


I had an idea of doing a modern fairy tale and stumbled across The Hero With a Thousand Faces. After... It was a great gift and a very important moment. It's very possible that if I hadn't run across that [book] that I'd still be writing Star Wars today.


Storytelling Patterns



The magic that Campbell, a comparative mythologist, presented is the idea of The Hero's Journey (also referred to as the monomyth). He outlines a very prescriptive formula that almost all hero myths, from the Lion King to Lord of the Rings, from Odysseus to The Avengers, all have in common. 

  • Departure - The hero leaves their familiar environment to pursue an adventure.
  • Initiation - The hero encounters trials and tribulations where they learn about their true identity and come to terms with their inner self.
  • Return - The hero re-integrates into society and takes their rightful place as a leader. 

In short, what we have here is a storytelling pattern, otherwise known as an archetype. Patterns are beautiful things. Why? Because you can repeat them.  


Target Communications to a Specific Archetype

One of the keys to creating a successful marketing campaign is understanding the underlying motives of our audience. That's exactly what Campbell has done in The Hero's Journey. We can identify specific hopes and fears and dreams, which gives us as marketers tremendous insight. If we are a brand marketing to heroes (take Nike for example), we can craft our communications to accurately reflect where they are in their own personal journey.

This isn't new. Brands have been doing this for years. In fact, there's mounting research in academic journals about the effectiveness of using archetypes to develop brands that stand the test of time and create loyal consumers. A recent study by AG Woodside in the Journal of Business research puts it this way: 







While lectures alone on product attributes and benefits put people to sleep, stories compel them to action (Adaval and Wyer; 1998; McKee, 2003; Woodside 2010). Brand–consumer storytelling that relies on conversations within primal forces in the collective unconscious is likely to compel action.


Marketing + Archetypes = Marketypes

 The hero is just one of many archetypes, and fair warning — once you start digging into this topic, it's easy to lose yourself. Just this past weekend, we went to visit my husband's grandmother. I decided to do some research in the car and before I knew it, poof, three and a half hours had flown by.   

One of the biggest realizations I had is that there seems to be just as many ways to market as there are archetypes. Think about it — content marketing, event marketing, cause marketing... what if each of these types of marketing was paired up with an archetype whose characteristics seemed to scream "PLEASE communicate with me like this!" In short, Marketing + Archetypes = Marketypes

At BrandVox, we've been using archetypes to validate our audience segmentation research for a while. I took a look back through our client history and was able to look at some of the most common archetypes that our clients identify as a primary audience. 

Artist/Creator - User Generated Content

  • Hopes: Self expression
  • Fears:  Lack of autonomy
  • Example:  Jackson Pollack
  • Brand: Lego

Everyman - Word of Mouth Marketing

  • Hopes: Helpful and dependable
  • Fears:  Dishonesty
  • Example:  Jimmy Stewart in Mr. Smith Goes to Washington
  • Brands: Angie's List

Hero - Influencer Campaigns

  • Hopes: Courage and transformation
  • Fears:  Status quo
  • Example:  Odysseus
  • Brand: Nike

Innocent - User Stories & Testimonials

  • Hopes: Trust and honesty
  • Fears:  Doing something wrong
  • Example:  Dorothy in Wizard of Oz
  • Brand: Allstate


Sage - Information Marketing


  • Hopes: Wisdom
  • Fears:  Ignorance
  • Example:  Dumbledore in Harry Potter
  • Brands:  Consumer Reports

We've found "marketypes" to be an accurate predictor of campaign success, but how about you? Have you used archetypes in your marketing efforts? Have you found them helpful? Keep the conversation going in the comments.