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Cultural Archetype #13: The Social Narcissist


Cultural Archetype #13: The Social Narcissist

93 million selfies are taken worldwide each day.

500 million tweets are spewed each day.

Believe it or not, each of us probably spends close to two hours a day browsing and posting where we go, what we do, what and where we eat, and plenty of other personal experiences throughout our day on social platforms like Facebook, Instagram, Snapchat and YouTube.

It is, therefore, a common refrain that social media has created a culture of narcissists.  In April 2015, Ohio State published a study conducted among 1,200 men and women and concluded that people who post selfies on social networks are more likely to exhibit what psychologists call a narcissistic personality trait or extreme self-centeredness.  

So, it seems that in 2018, a new cultural archetype, the Narcissist, has emerged. The definition of an archetype is a symbol, theme or character type that recurs in culture, literature and rituals so frequently that it begins to embody essential elements of the ‘universal’ human experience.  93 million selfies a day, 500 million tweets – no doubt in my mind embodies the quintessential and universal human experience in 2018.

For all of us branding enthusiasts who have found brand archetypes an inspiring way to inform a brand narrative, does this mean we now have the luxury of an added archetype #13 to our 12 Archetype Wheel?  Do we now have a 2018 culturally relevant archetype to reflect brand motivations, values, drivers and attributes?  CNN, Oprah and the Wall Street Journal are Sages (they seek the truth and set us free to see the world objectively).  The Jester likes to make mundane experiences really fun – think Geico and Taco Bell.  Subaru and Starbucks are Explorers, brands that move past the known to explore new, uncharted territories. When crowds go one way, Explorers choose a completely different path, embracing the journey rather than the destination.

So, what brands fit the  cultural Narcissist archetype, what are its motivations, values, drivers and attributes?  Kristin Dombek, the author of ‘The Selfishness of Others: An essay on the Fear of Narcissism,’ teases out and reconciles the difference between the clinically diagnosed narcissist and the cultural narcissist.  It is important to note there is a difference – clinical narcissism includes sociopathic behavior like lack of empathy and being highly exploitive.  However, psychiatrists acknowledge narcissism exists in many degrees and spectrums, and that there is a little narcissism in all of us.

So, the new branding Narcissist archetype draws its values and characteristics from the pointers identified in Jane Brody’s New York Times (July 19, 2016) article, ‘How to Recognize a Narcissist.’  She asks: does this sound like any person you know?  Highly competitive in almost all aspects of his or her existence, believes he/she possesses special qualities and abilities that others lack; portrays himself/herself as a winner and all others as losers.

So I ask, “Does this sound like a highly successful technology brand we all love and hate at the same time?” A brand that has changed the lives of millions across the globe because its founder was so highly competitive in every aspect of the brand’s existence; who lived and breathed to infuse the brand and its products with qualities and abilities that no other brand could come close to.

These are the positive attributes of the cultural narcissist that would be highly desirable and aspirational from a branding perspective (not so sure about these attributes from a friendship perspective!).  On the negative side, the cultural Narcissist is extremely difficult to work with (‘behaves as if entitled to do whatever he wants regardless of how it affects others’), and value themselves more than they value others.  It may be that some brands are real cultural narcissists - they don’t really care what they do to the environment, how they appear to their customers, etc.  Their powerful grasp on the world defies all criticism and while they may acknowledge - or be forced to acknowledge - missteps, they really do not care and will never change their deep cultural and personality flaw.  

But the real power of this new culturally relevant archetype is to harness their powerful competitive grasp on the marketplace while infusing it with the real trump card for creating true power with consumers – empathy.