It’s Not Subliminal, It’s Sublime: Art As Advertising Part 2.1


“King of Kings am I, Osymandias. If anyone would know how great I am and where I lie, let him surpass one of my works.”

~Ramses the Great

Cocky old bugger wasn’t he? Well he wasn’t the only one, for the ancient Egyptians, art was advertisement for both the state and the affluent. Almost all art we find from Egypt today seems to come from professional artisans, and the majority of what’s left seems devoted to the leaders. The reason so much of it is left over comes from the pyramids. These were made during their lifetimes, to be completed ideally before their deaths. So for Egyptian rulers, a constant reminder of their greatness was also a work in progress. People could see that giant landmark being built and would know theirs was the most awesome ruler in the world (nobody else was doing it right? nobody else could do it).

Apparently, there were also inscriptions, text that went along with the art like what we saw above. That quotation, which has inspired at least two poems and some songs since, was supposedly found on the leg/base of one of his statues. It is a challenge to all his competitors, it is also a reminder that he was there.

Ramses was also a great spin doctor, there’s the story of him nearly getting creamed by the Hittites and going home and calling it a victory, maybe he came in on a winged chariot and said ‘Mission Accomplished’… In advertising, you work with what you have. The enemies are gone, they aren’t going to conquer us, that roughly fits the definition of vanquished, which is kind of the same as us conquering them. My target audience is the population of Egypt, not the Hittites, so I’ll tell the Egyptians we kicked ass, and since the enemies won’t be around for a while to say otherwise, let’s just go with that. Napoleon did similar things, putting people in paintings who weren’t there, having newspapers print accounts of near-misses as glorious victories, rewriting history.

I mentioned that the majority of the stuff was state-centered, but some of it may have been for anybody who could afford it. A great deal of the art we have from those days come from Egyptian mummies, and at some point just about anybody who could afford to was getting mummified. The work that was being done on non-aristocratic mausoleums included symbols that represented who the person inside was. Because Egyptian clothing followed a more rigid class structure, the more naked the statue, the poorer the guy inside. 

Of course, other Egyptians weren’t the only target audience, there was the religious aspect to keep in mind. These people were also trying to advertise to dead spirits and to the gods. The point being you had to impress them. What better way than to brand yourself with symbolic items representative of your profession, your piety, your achievements on earth?

Now think of the people who make this stuff, artisans and priests must have had a field day selling essentially useless trinkets and symbolic bric-a-brac to potential customers. 


Next000 With the Greeks and Romans we get into the real heart of actual advertising, and I’ll show you some of the first product brands.


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