Have you ever heard of the term “benefit laddering?” It is a traditional technique used by most marketers and researchers. Simply put, you start by listing the key attributes of a product. Then you progress to the product benefits. Next, the direct consumer benefits, and finally the key emotional benefits. Based on Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs, “the underlying metaphor” upon which this exercise is built is ascension. There is another way, though. And today we are going to use it to discover the primal meaning(s) of ice cream.
Depth psychology is the discipline that explores the relationship between the conscious and the unconscious. It studies archetypes, which are universal and primal patterns and images. If we were to approach analysis not like a market researcher, but like a depth psychologist, then we would need to replace the analogy of ascension with the metaphor of descending. Why? Because meaning is usually found in hidden places, buried, covered. That’s why deepening, moving downward, and digging out are all more appropriate terms than “benefit laddering.”
As Carol Pearson and Margaret Mark stated in in their seminal book, the Hero and the Outlaw, “understanding the original purpose of a product gets you closer to its primal meaning. And “branding” the primal meaning and claiming it as yours gets your brand closer to market dominance.” Great. But how do we understand a product’s primal meaning anyway?
Understanding the original purpose of a product gets you closer to its primal meaning. And “branding” the primal sense and claiming it as yours gets your brand closer to market dominance.
You can liken archetypes to a field. In a similar way to gravity, archetypes are invisible. You cannot see them or observe them directly. That being said, archetypes possess an invisible force, which shapes actions and behaviours. Consequently, archetypes can be analyzed indirectly by looking at the way people behave. And if we look closely, we can see six unique ways that ice cream makes people act. Let’s dive deeper.
The Inner Child
By far the most dominant archetypal form of ice cream is the Puer, which means “eternal boy” in Latin. Mythologically speaking the Puer is a child-god who is forever young. And psychologically speaking, it is an older man whose emotional life has remained at an adolescent level.
Without a doubt, the sweet taste and the smooth texture of ice cream comfort us. But there is something more to this product than just the sensation of flavour. Ice cream is a kind of “time travel device” that takes us back to our childhood. It makes us recall early (and hopefully positive and happy) memories. The dream analysts Tony Crips says that “Ice cream can depict childlike desires for sweet things. Young girls especially seem to crave such things, and as adults sometimes we still return to those feelings.”
Ice cream can depict childlike desires for sweet things.
The Puer archetype is closely linked with innocence. Every time we call upon our Inner Child, we -unconsciously- constellate sense of optimism, happiness, trust, hope, goodness, naivety, cleanliness, purity, absolutism and simplicity. Keep in mind that these are incredibly powerful emotions that often cause black-and-white dualism. While their presence creates a sense of happiness, safety, and loyalty, their absence could induce denial and infantile rage.
Ice cream brands that can take people back to their childhood would gain an immense competitive advantage. Maybe adopting the Inner Child won’t create relevant differentiation for a brand. But it would nonetheless align the brand with the essence of the category, propelling its momentum.
Archetypal reading and the theory of interpretation possess alchemical power: they enrich the meaning. Thanks to depth psychology, we can look at the same topic through a multiplicity of angles. Archetypes teach us that there is never one (or absolute) meaning, but always many. The Same logic applies to ice cream as well. While the Puer is the dominant archetype of the category, it is by no means the only force that shapes the meaning of ice cream. The Companion is another primal meaning associated with this product.
Like the Puer, the Companion is deeply rooted in childhood. For children, ice cream is a socializer. It is a product that requires the presence of others. This social aspect could entail parents or friends. Regardless, socialization is imprinted in ice cream. That’s why the product is often linked to being with friends. Sociability, collaborative leisure, and family time are all parts of the psychology of ice cream.
From a psychology standpoint, we can say that the Companion has legs in two major archetypal families. The first one is the Everyman, which taps into the deep fulfillment we all feel when we belong to a group. Fitting in and not sticking out is the key emotional drive of this archetype. Being down-to-earth and feeling supported are other key elements of the Companion if we analyze it through the lenses of the Everyman.
That said, there is another dimension to the Companion, which is rooted in love. Bear in mind that we are not talking about the type of love, which is romantic, affectionate and sexual. Instead, we are referring to camaraderie, sharing experiences, and exploring life together. This interpretation of the Companion archetype yearns to share a real bond with friends and family. Pay particular attention that “love” is a generously-used term when it comes to ice cream. Remember the famous Sesame Street song:
“Oh, everyone loves ice cream,
Yes indeed they do!
Everyone loves ice cream!
I do — do you?
Search the whole world over,
And sail the seven seas,
But there is always something on which everyone agrees!”
To sum, ice cream is a powerful social magnet, particularly for those who are on the young side of life. Brands that can tap into that could have an easier time selling their products.
“Joy” is the key term to understand the third meaning of ice cream. The French call it, “joie de vivre,” which means exuberant enjoyment of life. It is about living in the moment, appreciating, savouring and making the most of every second. In archetypal terms, this is the role of the Jester. And ice cream is known to bring the Inner Jester in people.
Also known as the Trickster, Fool, Clown, and Joker, the presence of this fun-loving archetype can be traced in every culture. Arguably, the Jester is the most authentic archetype of all. It is the uncensored, unfiltered, unrepressed version of our self, which pokes fun at the absurdities of everyday life. In their eloquently written book Seven Life Lessons of Chaos, Briggs and Peat say that this archetype becomes the personification of chaos for cultures over the world. By defying convention, Jester becomes the creator of both disorder and order. With its childlike cleverness and humour, it speaks truth, breaks down the power structure, and gives birth to new ideas, which were once unthinkable. By living at the edge, this archetype embodies the “outside-the-box thinking.” For it, spontaneity, playfulness, and creativity are nonnegotiable.
In Awakening the Heroes Within, Carol Pearson says, “Fool is the archetype that precedes even the Innocent. It is the aspect of the Inner Child that knows how to play, to be sensual and in the body. The Jester is at the root of our basic sense of vitality and aliveness, which expresses itself as a primitive, childlike, spontaneous, playful creativity.” It is quite easy to witness that side of ice cream.
Fool is the aspect of the inner child that knows how to play, to be sensual and in the body. It is at the root of our basic sense of vitality and aliveness, which expresses itself as a primitive, childlike, spontaneous, playful creativity.
Take a moment and watch the below video. It is a tradition in Eastern Turkey for the ice cream vendor to tease the buyer. It is a beautiful example of how ice cream brings our Inner Trickster. The taste almost becomes secondary as ice cream acts as a platform through which the joy of life spreads.
To observe the Jester aspect of ice cream you don’t need to go that far. Just take a look at Ben and Jerry’s, which makes premium brands like Häagen-Dazs look aloof. With its funny flavour names and campaigns, it makes us chuckle. And while doing that, it ties us all in enjoyment and celebration of life.
The Inner Child, the Companion, and the Jester are three powerful meanings of ice cream, all rooted in childhood. That said, there is an adult aspect of this product too. On the next article, we will explore the three mature archetypal meanings of ice cream. In the meantime, if you would like to take a guess what those might be, comment below and let me know!