14 Nov

I told my boss (after a not inconsiderable amount of time spent faffing around doing zip) that I had nothing to do. This may have been a mistake, because now I have a list as long as my arm and it’s all REALLY BORING.

He directed me to a website that I basically need to turn into marketing material for a service we are offering based on the product they sell. Got that? Yup. Ok. This website is written in Capital Letter Moralist Style, with majuscules leaping around like they’re on a parade ground, showing off their raw recruit lower-case followers. Every word has a multiplicity of syllables which I’m sure are quite unnecessary. Take this header, for example:
‘Software License Optimization Solution Implementation’.
I mean, really. What does that, when you get right down to it, actually say? It says ‘we have a really good way of solving your software licensing issues, and this is how you use it’. Which would you rather see on a website? If you’re an engineer, do you want to be tested on your understanding of technical terms (and needlessly long words) or would you rather read something direct, less formal and simpler to understand?
Marketing seems to me to be a dangerous business. It gets more complicated and self-conceited, more concerned with its own aesthetic than the product it is selling and more tenuous and long-winded at every stage. Then there is the absurdity of companies that deal exclusively with marketing, marketing themselves. It all seems superfluous to me.
Did Classical civilisations worry about marketing? Well, on the face of it, no, because the clients they sold to would base their decision to buy from someone out of necessity, trust and reputation. Society was sufficiently compacted that you’d know who was the better baker at the market, or who produced sails that would fit your ship. Decrees would go up condemning those who had dared sell their produce to the Persians, or a comic playwright would slander the less-than-fresh wares of a certain fishmonger. And if you didn’t know the tradesman, you’d be able to ask someone who did. You could rest assured that if he was doing something illegal then the full force of the law would come crashing down on him in the form of the Market Regulators (try Aristotle’s Athenaion Politeia and – I think – Aristophanes’ Acharnians for references). Anyway, the point is that your reputation was all the selling power you needed, and there was a limited amount of stuff to sell anyway.
Of course, people still spent money on ‘ludicrous’ things like a rhetorical education or horses (Aristophanes’ Clouds) or gilding the prows on their triremes ([Demosthenes] Against Polycles). What persuaded them to do this? Well, in part, it’s because they were convinced by what were probably the first cases of ‘marketing’ – speeches by men like Antiphon and Gorgias, who would argue both sides of a question and thus persuade people into making decisions. Really, this was condensing into one person’s speech the arguments that would be presented in a law court for prosecution and defence, but the combination was what blew people’s minds. How could you pretend to have such different opinions on the same thing? It’s not natural. The other thing that encouraged weird spending patterns – the sort of thing that makes a city ‘fevered’ (Plato, Republic II) – was the desire to augment reputation, by (among other things) being rich, hosting fabulous parties, equipping triremes, educating your children and so on. In Greek lingo, this is part of the all-important ‘charis’, a sort of civilised hangover from the heroic, Homeric ‘kleos’. Charis could save you in a law case (save him because of what he has done for the city, even if he is guilty), and if you didn’t have enough, it could condemn you (think of what he hasn’t done – but might yet do – to the city if he had the chance!). It was essential to cultivate it and maintain it. Ultimately, people would deal with you on a professional, political, religious, personal and business level based on your charis and that of your family and associates.
I suppose marketing is the modern charis. It’s come a long way since then. It’s always been important to promote a positive image of yourself. We just seem to have taken it to unbelievable levels…

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