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Ancient Greece a Pioneer in Marketing and Advertising

Ancient Greece Advertising
In what the Louvre considers one of the first advertising slogans, the potter has written: “Buy me, you will be getting a bargain.” Credit: Louvre

Advertising and marketing flourished in ancient Greece and Rome. Although they lacked the sophistication of modern advertising campaigns, there were certainly efforts to draw attention to goods, services, and events.

Advertising was most evident in Greek pottery. Many pots are signed by the artists, their names no doubt helping to sell these wares to collectors just as a signed Monet would be snapped up today.

One bitter potter, Euthymides, even took the time to advertise how much better his work was than one of his rivals. He wrote “better than Euphronios could ever have done” on one of his vases.

In the Louvre, there is a jug showing two men leading horses. It is a pleasant scene, and no doubt, someone would have wanted it in his home. Perhaps not, though, as it has some added text between the figures.

In what the Louvre considers one of the first advertising slogans, the potter has written: “Buy me, you will be getting a bargain.”

But there’s also tantalising evidence that craftspeople also used brand marks to denote a certain pride in their manufacturing. A Greek vase manufactured around 490 BCE bears the inscription “Sophilos painted me.”

Scandalous advertisement in Ephesus

Amongst the Roman and Greek ancient ruins in Ephesus in today’s Turkey, you will find a somewhat scandalous advertisement engraved into the marble walkway.

Advertising ancient Greece
The advertising of a brothel in ancient Ephesus. Credit: CC BY-ND 2.0

The engraving is dated to the 1st century AD, and the footprint is actually a way to lead men to a hidden but not so secret brothel. The left footprint alluded that the location was towards the left, and the size of the foot insinuated you must be of a certain age.

The carving features an image of: a cross, woman, heart, foot, money purse, and library, as well as a hole in the rock.

One interpretation of the carvings is as follows: Up at the crossroads, on the left, you’ll find women whose love can be purchased. But please, only stop in if your foot is at least this big, young men, and you have enough coins to fill this hole. Otherwise, we kindly direct you to the library on the right.

Widespread methods of advertising in ancient Greece

Merchants and craftsmen engaged in various forms of promotion to attract customers in ancient Greece.

This involved word of mouth, the use of town criers or heralds to announce special offers or events, and the display of goods in marketplaces. Shopkeepers might use distinctive signs or symbols to identify their establishments, and they might compete with each other to attract customers through the quality and uniqueness of their products.

As noted by Chip LaFleur, sellers in Egypt, Greece, and Rome would paint or carve advertisements onto prominently featured surfaces such as the sides of buildings or large rocks near paths with heavy foot traffic.

In areas with limited literacy among the general populace (or great linguistic diversity among shoppers), vendors would create image-based signs that depicted their primary good or service, which they would then hang outside their door or near their market stall.

The mortar and pestle as a symbol for pharmacists, a hammer, anvil, or tongs as a symbol for blacksmiths, and the Rod of Asclepius for those in the medical profession are all examples of symbols from the ancient world that have persisted to the modern era with remarkably similar meanings to their BCE counterparts.

Advertising ancient Greece
A symbol of health and medicine around the world to this day. Public Domain/Greek Reporter Illustration

Additionally, the ancient Greeks used other means to promote events, such as theatrical performances or athletic competitions. For instance, announcements about the staging of plays during festivals were made, and prizes were offered to encourage attendance.

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