William Shakespeare: brand consultant

Shakespeare_1It’s not too late to add this perfect beach book to your summer reading list. 

I refer to Stephen Greenblatt’s Will in the World: How Shakespeare became Shakespeare.

This book is beautfully thought, said and constructed.  Perhaps more urgently, it is useful for people in the field of marketing. 

Here’s what Greenblatt has to say about theatre before and after Will.

The authors of the morality plays thought they could enhance the broad impact they sought to achieve by stripping their characters of all incdiental distinquishing traits to get to their essences.  They thought their audiences would thereby not be distracted by the irrelevant details of individual identities.

This sounds like the brand construction strategies of the 20th century, doesn’t it?  All brands, even the very best ones, were constructed as if the message could have no subtlety or nuance  Branding, even by very gifted marketers, had an inclination to strip everything out.  Keep it simple.  Stick to genre and formula.  Say it loud.  Say it often.  This was mantra of marketing. 

Those days have passed.  We are on the verge of brands that grasp what Shakespeare got:  brands generalizing in the old fashioned way are too obvious, too crude, too stupid to enter consciousness, let alone move someone to purchase (intellectual or otherwise).

Shakespeare grasped that the spectacle of human destiny was, in fact, vastly more compelling when it was attached not to generatlized abstractions but to particular name people, people realized with an unprecedented intensity of individuation; not Youth but Prince Hal, not Everyman but Othello.

It’s almost as if the brand can’t have a place in the present day marketplace unless it is worthy of a place in contemporary culture.  It can’t be commerce unless it’s culture. 

I think it’s fair to say that is one of the things that Will wrought.  I mean, there is pretty good chance we wouldn’t be looking at this challenge to the way we exercise our will in the world were it not for that Will in the world.

Hey, but what do I know?  I make my living standing in McDonald’s drive-through lines (see last post). 


Greenblatt, Stephen.  2004.  Will in the world: How Shakespeare became Shakespeare.  New York: Norton, p. 34.

2 thoughts on “William Shakespeare: brand consultant

  1. Tom Guarriello

    Well, if Harold Bloom’s contention that Shakespeare invented the idea of an “individual personality” has any credibility (and I’ll defer to scholars on that question), then he certainly would be the father of brand personalities.

    What I love, though, is that even bland brand personalities still somehow seem to persist: how about Ovaltine?

Comments are closed.