The ruler and the hero: Do the federal leaders follow common types?

Brands are often built on the strength of familiar archetypes: Nike is the Hero, while Harley Davidson is the quintessential Outlaw. Archetypes can also be seen at work in political advertising, as parties try to set their brands and leaders apart, writes marketing consultant Eric Blais.

How will the federal leaders be defined in voters' minds in the next federal election?

Do the images of the party leaders, from left, Stephen Harper, Elizabeth May, Thomas Mulcair and Justin Trudeau fit into common archetypes from mythology and fairy tales? (Canadian Press)

In the world of advertising, brands are often built on the strength of archetypes, the familiar images and symbols of our dreams, mythology and fairy tales.

Nike is the Hero. Jeep embodies the Explorer archetype. And Harley Davidson is the quintessential Outlaw brand.

It can work in politics, too, as archetypes help voters understand differences between political brands and their leaders.

Most voters are non-committed because they are influenced by issues other than the traditional positions of the parties. They are significantly influenced by factors such as the candidate's background, personality and appearance.

Authors Margaret Mark and Carol Pearson look at how marketers leverage archetypes to build brands in their book "The Hero and the Outlaw." (Barnesandnoble.com)

Candidates can, through conscious intent or good luck, achieve deep and enduring connections with the electorate by embodying different archetypal meaning.

Authenticity matters. As Margaret Mark and Carol Pearson point out in their book "The Hero and the Outlaw," leveraging archetypes for brand building "is not about 'borrowing' meaning in an ephemeral advertising campaign, but rather becoming a consistent and enduring expression of meaning — essentially becoming a brand icon."

It's doubtful the parties are wittingly casting their leaders and developing their strategies according to these icons — yet the brand images that have been created in people's mind over the years might be seen to align with four distinct archetypes:

Stephen Harper: The Ruler

The Ruler's motto sums it up: "Power isn't everything. It's the only thing."

Gaining and maintaining power is the Ruler's primary motivation. Also known as the boss, the Ruler wants control to avoid chaos and promises safety and predictability. Ruler brands include IBM, Cadillac and most banks and insurance companies. The Ruler's goal is to create a prosperous community by exerting leadership. Being overthrown is his biggest fear. He also dislikes people who are loose cannons and those who threaten to disrupt order.

Anti-terrorism, minimum mandatory sentencing and other law-and-order measures top the Ruler's agenda. He also has a natural connection to patriotism which explains why his Canada is "proud, strong and free." However, a Ruler can have a dark side and can at times be seen as overly controlling and manipulative.

Tom Mulcair: The Caregiver

The Caregiver is an altruist who works to protect people from harm. His compassionate and generous approach to helping others is best related to images of the loving parent who cares for his children. Caregiving images are associated with nurses, teachers and country doctors.

Caregivers also worry about anyone sick or living in poverty. With its nurturing image, Campbell's soup is an iconic Caregiver brand. So is Volvo with its protector image and its reputation for safety.

The key to authenticity for the Caregiver is to avoid telling a cynical public that "you care." The Caregiver needs to demonstrate that he genuinely cares. He also can't look angry, even when the Ruler gives him reasons to. It'll upset the children and their parents and undermine his ability to be viewed as a potential gentle Ruler.

Justin Trudeau: The Hero

The Hero may also be known as the warrior, the rescuer, the superhero, the winning athlete or the dragon slayer.

The Hero identity is usually associated with brands that are the underdog and want to rival the competition. His biggest fear? Wimping out.

Winning a boxing match against the Ruler's Senator can't hurt.

The Hero strives to use his strength and courage for something that makes a difference to the world. Lately, the Hero has positioned himself as a modern day Robin Hood by claiming he's fighting for #Fairness to give back to the middle class. In doing so, he's moving closer to the class-conscious Outlaw archetype.

This needs to be done authentically otherwise it will only reinforce the Hero's dark side: at their worst, Heros can become arrogant and ruthless with an obsessive need to win. Casting the Hero as Robin Hood might also prompt the Ruler and his handlers to label the Hero and his followers "Men in Tights" to undermine the Hero's image as a man of the forest, protector of his people and a powerful leader.

Elizabeth May: The Innocent

Also known as utopian or naive, the Innocent has a vision of a better world and often wants to go back to nature and natural living.

Innocent brands promise preservation and a life that can be simple and good. Their appeal is the promise of a predictable rescue from an imperfect world.

This archetype is associated with basic values and a wholesomeness that makes it the meaning of choice for natural products. It's also Ikea's archetype — the common sense brand. It's a natural for the marketing of environmentalism and any organization that chooses kindness over greed. There is rarely a dark side to the Innocent but there can be a heavy dose of denial.

Canada's political leaders can be seen through the lens of the 12 common archetypes, based on their political messaging and how their parties position them, writes marketing consultant Eric Blais. (Eric Blais/Headspace Marketing)

The next federal election will be a battle of characters as much as one of policies and ideologies. The Ruler will face a restless and tired electorate. He'll also face an unproven Hero and an emboldened Caregiver. Time will tell if the Hero looks too calculating or the Caregiver too indignant to be taken seriously by a majority.

Eric Blais is president of Headspace Marketing, Inc., a strategic consulting firm. He specializes in the Quebec market.