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The Outlaw Archetype

The Outlaw Archetype

~ Akansha Singh, Deepa Soman

“People will only remember you for the rules you break”

The Outlaws or Rebels are fiction favourites, striding through their worlds with a confidence bordering on arrogance and shaking the foundations their society has always known — often doing so with little to no help at all from those around them.

Also known as the rebel, revolutionary, iconoclast, and misfit, the Outlaw is the archetype that lives for revolution. They speak to a base human desire to break free of the rules and constraints of regular life. Take ten minutes to listen to any radio station: the message is loud and clear. Pop, Rock n’ Roll, and Punk have all gotten their popularity by settling in the hearts of the listeners and making them feel the blood of the Rebel pumping through their veins.

The Outlaw, though often motivated by a need to better the world through somewhat questionable means, can also have a desire for revenge against atrocities committed against her.

Independent and radical, the Outlaw employs outrageous, disruptive or shocking habits to shake out of complacency, those they interact with.

Though Outlaws can also be strong advocates for change, the methods they often employ to get the attention of their oppressors can be outright dangerous or misguided. They can also be dogmatic about their own perspective, and outcast those who do not fit their definition of “good,” thus repeating the cycle of society they are trying to break out of. It is not uncommon for them to turn to crime that harms innocent people on the side-lines, and, in the process, lose their way, as well as their sense of morality. They often alienate their friends or those who would otherwise support them.

Outlaw is a great archetypical identity for those who want to express their wild side. The riders see Harley Davidson as more than a motorcycle – more like a set of attitudes; a lifestyle that is not just about freedom but freedom from  mainstream values and conventions. Harley Davidson was in serious trouble some years ago because the Japanese were selling a better product at a cheaper price. The company regained its market share by selling meaning; by promoting personality of the brand, from selling motorcycles to its own line of clothing and accessories linked not by function, but by archetype.

Think Robin Hood, Zorro and Maverick in Top Gun. The Outlaw is an unconventional thinker whose aim is to shock, disrupt, and change what they see isn’t working. Their greatest fear is being ineffectual and powerless. At their best, they’re brave and free-spirited but at their worst, they can be destructive, reckless, unstable and nihilistic.

Rebel brands promise revolution, positioning themselves as an alternative to the mainstream in an effort to stand out. Successful rebel brands tend to have a cult-like following. The worst thing for a rebel brand is to be bought out or become too popular. (The latter tendency needs watching because the aim in business is to make money).

Rebel customers appreciate the unconventional and forcefully reject the status quo. They are likely to value unique or shocking content.

Examples: Harley Davidson, Virgin.


Other Readings & References:

Margaret Mead & Carol Pearson – ‘The Hero and the Outlaw’

Archetypes: Outlaw by Ariel Hudnall (blog March 29, 2015)

Denis Whillier – ‘Which Brand Archetype is Your Business’


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