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Archetype-Fueled Branding 101: Channelling the Magician

I spent five years as a crew member on a submarine. Living and working with my coworkers taught me something about human psychology.

How Does It Work?

The word "magician" conjures up an image of an old guy with a long beard staring into a crystal ball. But not all Magicians carry wands and wear pointy hats, and the Magician archetype doesn't necessarily have to have anything to do with magic. The Magician archetype is involved with understanding and mastering the way that the world works. These days, most magicians have traded in their silky cloaks for safety glasses and lab coats. Magician oriented ads often have something to do with science or technology.

Technological advances came about because our modern day understanding of the hidden laws that govern the universe improved. Prior to the advent of science, we believed that medicine men and alchemists were in touch with how the universe operates. Now we believe otherwise. Even though our understanding of the world has changed, the archetypes have not. The same symbols and imagery that worked thousands of years ago are just as compelling today as they were in ancient times.

Carol Pearson wrote in her book "The Hero and the Outlaw: Building Extraordinary Brands Through the Power of Archetypes" that we are living in an age that is dominated by the Magician. It's true that the things we can do with science and electronics today were literally impossible twenty years ago. Our modern day wizards are the thinkers that appear on the stage at TED conferences to communicate ideas about fantastic topics like the dawn of de-extinction, a monkey that can control a robot with its thoughts, and the secrets of maintaining sexual desire. The popularity of TED talks show us that the Magician can be a compelling component of any science or technology related brand.

The age of the Magician isn't close to being over yet. If technological progress continues at the current rate, we're actually just getting started. Well-respected futurist and inventor Ray Kurzweil has said that technological progress will continue to increase at an exponential rate until a "technological singularity" is reached. The singularity will coincide with the dawn of artificial superintelligence. Kurziweil thinks that superintelligent consciousness will most likely emerge when human intelligence is augmented and improved to the point where the line between man and machine is forever blurred.

Predictions like that freak some people out. Not everyone feels comfortable with the pace at which technology is advancing. So, if you use the Magician in your tech brand it's best to be subtle about it or mix it with other compatible archetypes if you want to reach out to those who aren't comfortable with technology. Some people can handle change better than others. Almost everyone knows someone who refuses to have a cellphone and avoids using the Internet whenever possible.

Now You See It, Now You Don't

Magicians are not only nerds-- they can also be showmen, performers or (at their worst) shysters and fakers. In the pre-scientific age, compelling con-artists were able to pull the wool over the eyes of many ordinary people without getting caught in a lie because the fantastic claims they made were hard to disprove. These days we can use the "white magic" of science to debunk a confidence man, but people with a magical style personality (like the alien "contactee" George Adamski) are sometimes still able to create a strong following around themselves by telling fantastic, larger-than-life tales.

If you are involved in the entertainment business, you can tap into the Magician's ability to draw your audience into a whole new world. The world of imagination is especially attractive to those who feel "stuck" in their current position. Children who are too young to embark on their own personal journeys often like a good fantastic tale, for example. So does anyone who is feeling frusterated with life. Yet, almost everyone appreciates a little taste of something different or exotic. Many pop musicians channel the Magician by wearing weird outfits and using lazer lights to turn their performance into something beautiful and strange. If your brand image contains elements of fantasy, you can offer your audience an escape from hum-drum reality-- but you don't have to be a rock star to do that. Even if your product or service is not very exciting, you can use the Magician to add meaning to everyday actions. By sprinkling the Magician's magic dust over your brand, mundane tasks (like washing dishes or driving long distances) can be turned into magical rituals.


1. Corning Glass

This Innocent/Magician ad from Corning shows us an ethereal vision of a future made possible via glass technology. Not only do we see some pretty cool technological wizardry in this ad, we are also presented with a vision of a utopian world—a classic Innocent-style branding theme.

Corning's ad went viral on the Internet and racked up more than 21 million views! What we can learn from this is that the optimistic, utopian vibe of Innocent ads can be made even more effective when combined with the mind-boggling power of the Magician.

Dazzle your audience with impressive new technologies while also hinting about the promise of a better future to create a compelling Magician/Innocent brand.

2. Lacoste "Let's Reinvent the Game"

One problem with Magician brands is that they can come off as overly nerdy. In previous decades dorkyness was more of a handicap than it currently is, since we're living in a progressively geeky culture where video game characters are now part of the popular culture, fantasy/RPG-related paraphernalia is no longer taboo, and pocket protectors are increasingly accepted. Still, if you want to have your Magician-oriented brand to have appeal beyond the Nerd Kingdom, you can combine it with universally appealing archetypes, like the Warrior.

This ad from Lacoste combines the Warrior and the Magician while also doing another thing that Magician-style ads are known for—changing perception. In this case, the ad is showing us a different way to think about tennis. Tennis is usually thought of being somewhat bourgeoisie and foreign compared to other sports.

The scoring system is filled with French nomenclature, and the emphasis is on skill and finesse as opposed to strength and stamina. So, we don't normally associate tennis players with the Warrior archetype. Yet, in this ad, we see a hyperaggressive tennis maniac leaping into the air and pounding a tennis ball with his futuristic robo-racket.

Time magically slows down, and a digital display appears out of nowhere to show us that the ball was traveling at a speed of 238 MPH before it hit some type of invisible force field. Lacoste is trying to show us a different way of thinking about tennis and does so by conjuring the Magician.

When creating a Magician-based brand, use magical, fantastic imagery to stimulate your audience's imagination and challenge the way that they normally see the world.

3. FedEx

FedEx is one of those companies that uses a wide variety of archetypes in their ad campaigns, but they do tend to rely on the Magician the most. The Magician is a natural fit for FedEx, since the idea of a package suddenly appearing on a doorstep in a matter of days can seem amazing, especially when the work that goes into getting a package from point A to point B is normally invisible to FedEx customers.

In the "Enchanted Forest" Caretaker/Magician ad from FedEx, we see heavy use of fantasy-related imagery. The ad lets us know that FedEx seems to care about the environment, but it also pairs the FedEx brand with fantastic cartoonish creatures. Subconsciously we get the idea that FedEx is magically efficient at what it does. FedEx also made heavy use of fantasy in a Super Bowl ad from a few years ago that featured a FedEx truck landing in Oz, right on top of the Wicked Witch of the West.

If you look closely, you'll find a subtle symbol embedded into the FedEx logo itself. The white space in the logo between the "E" and the "X" forms the shape of an arrow. An arrow brings to mind the feeling of moving forward or traveling quickly through space. These are concepts that suit FedEx perfectly.

It's obviously no accident that a hidden arrow is embedded within the FedEx logo. A designer did that on purpose, hoping to affect anyone who sees the logo on a subconscious level. Embedding subtle meanings inside of your brand is a Magician branding tactic that works well within any type of brand.

Evoke the Magician in your brand by embedding subtle messages or compelling symbols into your advertising or logo.

4. Porsche "Engineered for Magic. Every Day."

One problem with Magician brands is that overusing the Magician may make your brand seem so otherworldly and exotic that people may go looking elsewhere for something more "normal" even if they find what you have to offer to be appealing.

Porsche already has a well-established brand image of making incredible sports cars, but the problem is that most middle-class people won't normally go to a Porche dealership when thinking about buying a new car. They automatically assume that Porches are expensive. This ad from Porsche tries to bring the Porsche magic to the "average joe" Orphan.

This ad makes us consider the idea that an average person can buy a Porsche. In the comment section on YouTube for this video, people started arguing about whether or not Porsche makes cars that average people can afford. People thinking about buying a new car might get the idea that buying a Porsche is a realistic idea and might at least go check the prices and investigate Porsche cars to find out if getting one is a practical move.

If your brand image is too ethereal, add in some Orphan elements and make a point out of demonstrating that your product or service is as affordable and practical as it is exotic and out-of-this-world.

5. Heineken "Deja Vu"

A Magician brand doesn't necessarily need to make use of fantasy to evoke a mystical mood. Anything foreign or mysterious can be used to evoke a mood that is compatible with the Magician branding style. World cultures, strange religions and historic time periods can be used to transport your audience to a different time or place.

This Seeker/Magician ad from Heineken that seems to be influenced by James Bond movies shows us a "man of mystery" type traveling around to various exotic locations and dancing with strange, beautiful women.

This tactic works because what is being sold is an inherently accessible product—beer. Just about anyone can drink beer without feeling like a snob. But what if drinking a certain type of beer made you appear a little bit special or exotic? It's an appealing idea. Also, even though the situation presented here is a little hard to believe, at least there are no mythical creatures involved or superpowers. If the approach was any more over-the-top, the message that exceptional people drink Heineken wouldn't go down as easy.

Reference exotic locations or foreign cultures to imbue your brand with Magician appeal while at the same time staying rooted in reality.

6. Syfy "Bird Eater"

Magician-fueled branding tactics can sometimes be nothing more than a bizarre image that sparks the imagination and makes us momentarily forget the monotony of the daily grind.

In this ad for the Syfy channel, we see a smiling monk appear. Then, a bird lands on his head. Finally, the monk's head opens up, and he devours the bird. It's a strange, eye-catching image that lets you know immediately that the Syfy channel is the place to be for weird entertainment.

When working with the Magician archetype, use incredibly strange and odd images to attract attention to your brand.

This article is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge. Content is for informational or entertainment purposes only and does not substitute for personal counsel or professional advice in business, financial, legal, or technical matters.


Patrick Bernauw from Flanders (Belgium) on August 16, 2015:

This is a real eye opener! Magical!

Theresa Ast from Atlanta, Georgia on May 28, 2013:

Alex - Absolutely fascinating, terrific hub. You selected great videos to illustrate your examples. Everyone once in a while reading about archetypes makes me wish I had time to study literature, psychology and sociology. Loved the reference to TED and the idea that a large percentage of Ted speakers are some form of the magician. Sharing. :) Theresa