All About the Outlaw
An inherently disruptive force, the Outlaw aims to shake things up, whether for personal gain or for the good of others. Toward the negative end of the archetype, the Outlaw is provoked to anger when encountering personal offense. It doesn’t mind being feared by others, as fear is seen as power. Extremist groups are almost always an example of the Outlaw.
On the positive end, the Outlaw makes others uncomfortable with the status quo in hopes of evoking change. For instance, many civil rights activists engaged in peaceful demonstrations, yet are still examples of the Outlaw archetype in action.
The Outlaw is a countercultural force capable of releasing society’s taboos (sex, drugs, and rock ‘n’ roll anyone?) and does so by tapping into the shadowy part of human nature. Any brand that seeks to liberate itself (or others) from repression and break free of the prevailing dominant culture is an Outlaw.
For examples of the Outlaw archetype, look to Robin Hood, Malcolm X, Harley-Davidson, MTV, Howard Stern, and Miley Cyrus.
The Outlaw Brand in Action
Outlaw brands can either reinforce questionable moral values or can topple an oppressive regime. These brands rely on marketing that emphasizes risk taking and a departure from the ho-hum status quo. This may be achieved through imagery that is either dark and destructive or bold and revolutionary. There is often a certain element of shock value, whether extreme or simply a clever or unexpected joke.
Brands representing relatively “healthy” or “normal” products or services will often call upon the Outlaw in a lighthearted way, using marketing cues to suggest their brand is appropriate when people want to feel just a little bit bad or set apart from the norm.
The organizational culture of Outlaw brands is often quite revolutionary in and of itself, as employees tend to identify as Outlaws and the passion they possess is seen throughout their work.
The Different Levels of the Outlaw Archetype
Each archetype can be expressed at varying levels. The lower levels are more primitive, while higher levels are more mature or developed.
Level 1: Identifying as an outsider and therefore pulling away from conventional society.
Level 2: Engaging in shocking or disruptive behaviors.
Level 3: Becoming a revolutionary.
All in the Family
There are different aspects of the Outlaw brand archetype that can emerge, based on the strength of various attributes. The book Archetypes in Branding includes the Outlaw (Rebel) as one of five related sub-archetypes.
The Rebel is a rule-breaker and a risk-taker. Fed up with convention, the Rebel pushes the envelope to bring about social change, a fresh perspective, or a reawakening. However, with the potential to be fueled by anger and negativity, the Rebel must be careful not to overstep one too many boundaries in its quest for reform.
The Activist fights for a cause, wanting to radically transform some economic, political, or social structure. This sub-archetype believes in the power of the people to affect change, and rallies others behind its cause.
The Gambler thrives on risk. There are no limits to what the Gambler is willing to bet, which can lead to addiction and compulsion. Yet, this sub-archetype is socially adept and has good instincts.
The free-thinking Maverick rejects any sort of label or constraint. With an independent streak a mile wide, the Maverick displays intellect, aggression, and fearlessness while going against the grain.
The Reformer’s quest to affect change is typically a little more understated and calculated than, say, the free-wheeling Maverick. Seen in the roles of watchdog or whistleblower, the Reformer seeks to find ways to improve the existing system rather than destroy it completely.