Ancient techniques for modern marketing

A guest blog by Natalie King

The Ancient Ad Men

Plato. Aristotle. Cicero. Quintilian. These guys understood what it takes to move, delight and convince audiences. If they were alive today, they’d be working at Ogilvy, BBH, or Saatchi & Saatchi.

Before Ogilvy’s Confessions of an Advertising Man in the ‘60s, there was Aristotle’s Rhetoric in 367BC.

The ‘five pillars of rhetoric’ (largely influenced by Aristotle’s thinking) remain relevant to brand and copywriting today.


The Five Pillars of Rhetoric

1. Inventio / Invention

Meaning: Finding a truth or argument to express. The name derives from the Latin invenire, “to find.”

Modern relevance: Think brainstorms, or coming up with an insight.


2. Dispositio / Arrangement

Meaning: Once you’ve found something to say, how do you structure it for best effect? What does the beginning, middle, and end look like?

Modern relevance: On a macro-level, this could be about how you plan out a 6-month marketing campaign. On a micro-level, it might be about the structure of a video, print ad or blog post.


3. Elocutio / Style

Meaning: What stylistic, or linguistic methods do you use for effect? Elocutio was also tied up with the principle of decorum – namely, that style is adjusted to suit audience, and context.

Modern relevance: Today, this is often described as a brand’s Tone of Voice. But it also relates to the way you might write differently for the web vs. print, or for Millennials vs. Gen X.


4. Memoria / Memory

Meaning: Rhetoric grew out of a culture placing heavy emphasis on speechmaking (rather than writing). Memorising what you wanted to say was important. The tricks ancient speakers used to jog their memories, also ensured their speeches lived on in the minds of their listeners.

Modern relevance: How do you make sure people remember your ad, slogan, or message in a media-saturated landscape? What makes Nike’s ‘Just Do It’, or McDonald’s’ ‘I’m Lovin’ It’ unforgettable?


5. Actio / Delivery

Meaning: In ancient speechmaking culture, this was about the externals and the gestures accompanying what was said. E.g. hand movements, tone of voice and eye contact.

Modern relevance: Today, marketing delivery can be multi-sensory. But however you deliver a message, you need externals that amplify it and make it enjoyable to consume. Great writers need great designers. And vice versa.


About the Author

natalie king

Natalie King is a young(ish) copywriter who still finds it hard to believe you can make a career out of telling stories, and being clever with words. Swing by to see what else she’s been up to.