Thursday, July 14, 2016

The wrath of Mom...

Queen Boudicca is a cult favorite in England and among many feminists with good reason. Around 60 or 61 AD, she led a pretty sizeable revolt against the occupying Roman army. Her force consisted of something on the order of 100,000 against four or so Roman Legions, which means she had Rome outnumbered 4 to 1, if it is assumed that the normal headcount for the time was 5,000 men per legion. Now, it must also be noted that the whole history of Boudicca’s revolt is not found in native literature from the British Isle. She is documented in the Roman historians, so the odds may have been inflated to make the Romans look as both underdog and additionally triumphant. And with no local accounts, well, we never hear the British side.

Boudicca herself is a bit of fog. For instance, the spelling of her name is inconsistent. You can find her name as Boudica, Boudicca, Boadicea or even Buddug. And then there are Bunduca, and Voadicia. The ancients can give you a headache with their variations. But because we get accounts of her from the only primary sources of the time, the Romans Tacitus and Dio, we will go with Boudicca. According to Kenneth Jackson, a linguist who specialized in Celtic languages, Boudicca’s name is rooted in the Celtic expression for “victorious.” That suggests that she may have had a birth name, although that remains a mystery.

What else we know of Boudicca is limited, but we do know is that she was considered royalty. She was married to a tribal king, Prasutagus. He ruled over the Iceni whose territory was approximately the Norfolk area of the farthest eastern point of modern day England. By the mid first century AD, we’re talking a blend of Celtic and Anglo-Saxon blood. This is evident in how Roman historians and scribes describe Boudicca. She was tall, and was a dishwater blonde—Romans used “tawny”—with locks falling below her hips. Boudicca did not have a soft, feminine voice. Dio remarked that it was “harsh.” And she was reported to have a glare that would scare the bejeezus out of an opponent. Underscoring her imposing, fierce-looking presence is the fact that she was very intelligent, and from time-to-time she would wield a spear as she spoke. Tacitus and Dio record Boudicca as giving rousing and intense speeches to rally ally tribesmen to her cause. She spoke not as mimicking a man, or as woman to men, but as leader who also suffered the wrongs imposed by the Romans, rallying men, women, even children to her forces.

Imagine just what it was that earned her wrath. Knowing Romans, it wouldn’t be difficult—the local occupying Roman authority wound up behaving as Romans—and then some.

Boudicca and daughters.
Her husband lived well. Southern Americans would say he lived high on the hog—and way beyond his means. So part of what befell Boudicca is on her husband. But that fed, even taunted the Roman role in this. Essentially, Prasutagus ruled a small kingdom, which was a voluntary ally to Rome. This likely came about as a negotiation with Roman emissaries who bore news of impending Roman conquest. The deal was that the Iceni leadership and patrician class would remain intact, but under Roman guidance. Usually when the negotiating monarch died, the whole territory, people, livestock and such came under Roman rule and ownership. Indeed, Rome was mentioned in Prasutagus’ will, although sharing the kingdom jointly with his wife and two daughters. And there’s the rub. Roman law is patriarchal and in no gender equal. It only allows for inheritance through the male line. When Prosutagus died without a male heir, Rome proceeded according to custom and annexed the Iceni tribe and territories. As if that weren’t bad enough, Roman forces flogged Boudicca, raped her virgin daughters, and stripped the king’s relatives of holdings and position, then sold them into slavery. The plunder of Iceni was so complete and so grievous that even Roman slaves took booty from the house of Prasutagus.

Any one of those individual offenses would have been enough to spark outrage, but together … here comes the wrath of mom.

Fury was let upon the Roman colony of Camulodunum, which was destroyed by Boudicca and her army in two days. Next was Londinium, and then Verulamium. These are modern cities of Colchester, London and St. Albans. Boudiccan forces slaughtered anything in their path that was anything Roman or akin to Roman. Although numbers are in question, Dio cites around 230,000 troops for Boudicca against an estimated 10,000 for the final battle. Even if you boost Roman numbers and slash Boudicca’s by half, the Romans are well outnumbered. So it is no wonder that Suetonius, the governor of the area, picked for his last stand a very narrow gorge with a thick forest behind him. No doubt he’s read his Greek history and pulled from the pages of King Leonidas I and his 300 Spartans.

Whether 10,000 against 230,000 or only 100,000 Boudiccans, “their numbers counted for nothing.” In a narrow field of battle, Boudicca would not be able to flank Suetonius, or hardly even maneuver her forces. Indeed, she wound up pinned against her supporting wagons and encampments. Romans repaid the slaughter of their three cities. The rebellion ended in some undesignated place along the Waitling Street, a long road bisecting the island, but probably somewhere in the center regions.

Tacitus says that Boudicca committed suicide, but neither Tacitus nor Dio mentions the fate of her daughters. Nobody came out on top, really. Boudicca was dead, Rome was in disgrace, even to the point then Emperor Nero considered pulling out of Briton. Legion commanders who’d been defeated earlier, fled to Gaul in cowardice. A few commanders did not rally to Suetonius’ call to arms, and overall, Roman behavior was less than honorable.

Ultimately the whole affair was disastrous. But what shines through is that Boudicca didn't accept defeat. She stood her ground, endured, and then sought to rally the locals against an occupation army that was, in effect, looting their country. She went down, yes, but she took a piece of Rome with her.

Therefore, submitted for your approval…

1. Determine the most appropriate brand-positioning attribute.
According to Tacitus, Boudicca said this,
 It is not as a woman descended from noble ancestry, but as one of the people that I am avenging lost freedom, my scourged body, the outraged chastity of my daughters. Roman lust has gone so far that not our very persons, nor even age or virginity, are left unpolluted. But Heaven is on the side of a righteous vengeance;
Boudicca was avenging the wrongs imposed her with the fury of woman. And while she somewhat tried to set aside her nobility, she actually was using it as reason for deserved leadership, but reinforced it with the fact that she was wronged just as the people were wronged—perhaps more so.
2. Devise a distinctive way to articulate the brand position and develop a brand personality that customers can use to introduce the brand.
Boudicca was the avenging queen, the lady warrior…
Warrior Queen
3. Establish graphic standards.
Boudicca’s physical description is enough to make a statement, but the symbolism of her leadership and justification of her cause was wholly wrapped up in the fact that she led from a chariot, attended by her two “outraged” daughters. Remember that Boudicca herself had been flogged, but it was her virgin daughters that had been brutally raped.
4. Implement internal branding programs to reward employees for behaving in ways that are consistent with the brand personality.
The root message from Boudicca was simply, fight or be slaves. Essentially she was saying, be you woman, man or child, your fate is tied to your willingness to battle against Rome—an oppressive enemy bent on discarding Britons, regardless of tribe or standing, and make of them slaves.
5. Consistently and uniquely execute the branding program.
Boudicca did not have long to firmly establish her brand. She was defeated after only three main attacks against Roman cities. But she incited fear into the colonial Roman forces. Her legacy was disgrace to Rome, regardless of its ultimate victory, and her name stands forever as a symbol of an avenger.

Thursday, May 5, 2016

A horde of expectations...

Gauls, Huns, Mongols, Vandals and Visigoths—these and other unnamed hordes were beyond scary to ancient civilizations, they were petrifying. Even armies perceived them as wild-eyed, animal-like masses, seemingly unruly and hellbent on mauling victims. And when facing an army of them, some imagined horrifying and slow torturous death was sometimes enough to make foot soldiers either bury their heads in the sand, or urinate where they stood. These were—the barbarians.

Barbarian is more of a categorization than it is a brand. Still, there are generalized attributes that come to mind on its mere mention—brutish, bloodthirsty, primitive and savage. Those are common descriptors we've long used to define those that are outside our idea of being civilized, cultivated or polished. To many benefactors of the tireless efforts of humankind to create a benign and safe society—at least on the surface—barbarians are a direct threat to peace and prosperity. But that's all just a bad rap that evolved over time. The truth is that early usage of the term didn't mean what it does today. To a Greek, it is conceivable that a Roman was a barbarian. So, although one might be a barbarian, it was still possible to conduct one's self within the bounds of good taste.
Barbarian, yes, but all in good taste.
Clip from 1994 film "The Shadow" - see footnotes for copyright information.

The whole concept of barbarians as a group originated with the ancient Greeks. The root word is barbaros, and it was meant to point out people from cultures different from Greek, or at the very least, non-Greek-speaking people. However, Greeks sometimes used it to insult competing city-states. This was especially true of Athens, who might deride, say, Sparta. It was similar to how New Yorkers might demean Houston, or any US city that isn't New York. Much of ancient Greece ultimately adopted the word as a pejorative reference to Persia, which might be understandable, given the Greco-Persian conflicts during the reigns of the Persian rulers, Cyrus and Xerxes. But in the beginning, there was nothing dark or nefarious, well, until Rome evolved the word.

Roman opinion was that pretty much everyone but Roman citizens were barbarians, and therefore inferior. This didn't just apply to some of the more tribal societies like the Celts and Gauls, and later the nomadic Goths and Huns. Rome not fond of competing advanced civilizations, such as Egypt or Carthage, but those are different stories. There was some exception given to the Greeks only because a large portion of Roman culture was derived from the Hellenistic period, including elements of language. Thus, we get the Latin derivative, barbarus. And it was from attack after repeated attacks on Rome by various barbarian opponents, and the city's repeated sackings during the first millennia that were the transformative forces on the meaning of the word.
The Visigoths sack Rom in 410 AD.

The sackings of Rome were transformative in our evolving idea of barbarians.
The fall of Rome was a painful process, lasting hundreds of years at the hands of all those barbarians that Rome once conquered, or at least irritated. The Dark ages followed the fall of Rome and the western empire—a period of horrific human suffering across all of Europe and into parts of Asia Minor. Much of this time inspires the modern notions of anti-heroes, such as of Conan the Barbarian. His motivations were personal, vengeful, and left a bloody wake across the land in which he travelled.

By the time of the Renaissance, the concept of barbarian was no longer pigeonholing an outlander as perhaps an undesirable or inferior cast in the city-state. Historians will say that barbarian transformed from such usage to become an adjective classifying acts or behavior. The 16th-century philosopher,  Michel de Montaigne, used the barbarous to characterize the dichotomous, bloodthirsty actions of Conquistadors, representing the civilized culture of Europe. He wrote that this was in contrast to the godless, tribal savages who supposedly needed to be civilized, but were the innocents and often peaceful. 

Barbarous, barbaric, and barbarism are how we now associate violent, heinous, or atrocious acts. This isn't being bad. Barbaric, or any derivative, is about being savage and bloody—it is aligned with being wantonly vicious, cruel, almost inhuman. A murderer. 

 When first impressions count...
Clip from Star Trek (Original Series): A Taste of Armageddon - 
see footnotes for copyright information.

Yet, and with a protracted but ...  because it is an undeniable truth that we humans have a barbarous streak in us as long as a DNA strand, part of us holds a sneaking admiration for our barbarian ancestors. Denying it is being less than honest. After all, most people on this planet, at least in the civilized nations, share DNA from invading barbarian savages, such as Genghis Khan, Kublai Khan, the Huns, and hordes of Viking warriors that pillaged the British isles and much of coastal Europe. 

Even in ancient times there was regard for the noble savage—although that expression is more often associated with the native plainsmen of North America. Still, even the Greeks gave their barbarian enemies their due, which is evident in a reproduction of a 3rd century BC sculpture. The original was commissioned by a king to commemorate his victory over the Gauls. It represents a dying Celt warrior, a barbarian, resting on his shield, barely able to hold himself up. It implies his struggle against death, symbolizing the resolve, determination and bravery of worthy adversaries. Art historian H. W. Janson interpreted the message as, "they knew how to die, barbarians that they were."

The Dying Galatian, Capitoline Museums, Rome

A sneaking admiration for a worthy adversary, "they knew how to die, barbarians that they were."

Romans had a fascination with Barbarians, as well. Gladiators were often prisoners, those barbarians captured during combat. In the games, they were pitted against other barbarians or prisoners in violent contests that were sometimes recreations of battles Rome fought against Celts, Gauls, and others. Much of our impressions about gladiators come from Hollywood. Watching cable shows like Spartacus or movies like Pompeii postulate the idea of pimping gladiators to Rome's more randy women of society. There is not a lot of evidence for this, but historians acknowledge that some women certainly found gladiators sexually attractive. No doubt there were clandestine sexual hook-ups between high-caste spectators and their heroes of the arena. But a woman of status cavorting with a gladiator—a barbarian—was very inappropriate. And as wildly wicked as Romans could be in private, their public personas were immensely important to them. So if something like an affair with a gladiator got out—it was bad. 

Brand expectation for barbarians evolved considerably. Initially, they were simply foreigners—people who perhaps struggled with the language and customs of the place they were visiting. Depending on the extent of the transgression, being called a barbarian could be a simple label or an insult. Either way, barbarians were outsiders and deserving of wary attention. Rome really had the impact on the term. It's encounters with the Germanic tribes of Europe, and then suffering so many violent, penetrative invasions, barbarian grew to express a wholly different expectation. Barbarians grew to become manbeasts, ready to destroy civilization. 

An Additional tidbit
Barbara is a derivative of barbarian—yes, it is. It was originally meant as, "a woman barbarian." Likely it was not complimentary. 

1 H. W. Janson, "History of Art: A survey of the major visual arts from the dawn of history to the present day", p. 141. 
  H. N. Abrams, 1977
The Shadow - Copyright CondeNast; 1994 Film Universal Pictures and Bregman Baer Productions; DVD release MCA/Univeral Home Video (USA).
Start Trek (The Original Series) - A Taste of Armageddon, Copyrights:
   Desilu Productions (1966-1967)
   Paramount Television (1968-1969)

   CBS Digital (remastering)
   CBS Television (2007 - present)

Sunday, April 24, 2016

Babylonian mad men

Marketing communications (marcom) remains a game of strategy, the winning approach incorporating the right mix of the right message, the right brand and the right audience, using whatever targeted tools are on hand at the moment of dissemination. Modern arsenals are loaded with digital channels of communication driven by micro-tracking of our every move, but way back in the day, it was word of mouth that was king. But how did ancients ignite the verbal firestorm, the chatter that would spread your message as far as the frontiers of your nation-state, or beyond?

I know. Can one really talk about “ancient marcom,” especially in comparison with the hyper-digital age? Yes. The foundations are the same—it’s the tools that evolve. And just as a matter of opinion, though well substantiated, every stride man has ever made began with a marketing pitch, an effort to convince someone of something—and that pitch didn’t have to be about commerce, but it was always about getting someone to buy-off on an idea. Always. So marcom was born, and some prehistoric version of Don Draper in bear skins began crafting that first message to persuade someone to engage in some activity: a trade, building a fire, going on a hunt, family or tribal politics, or military action—even sexuality. Oh yes, it could be said that sexuality was, and is, the primal driver of promo­tion and persuasion.

"And so marcom was born with that first message needing to be sent in order to persuade someone to engage in some activity..."

Early channels of communication started with something as simple as a face-to-face pitch grunted at the mouth of a cave, and then included public oration with animated-arm move­ments around the campfire. Beating rhythms on a hollow log ex­tended audience reach across valleys or along vast plains. Regard­less of however primitive intended exchanges may have been, their common purpose was to convince someone of something’s value, or to share a vision or objective with the family, the tribe, nearby tribes, perhaps even nomads. Civilization was evolving because of communication. Controlling fire was a great development, but it was the ability to relay an idea that fanned the flames of progress and established homo erectus as the species to contend with.

Along with man’s progression into organized communities—camps, hamlets, villages, towns, and then the inevitable metropolitan city-state—marcom evolved in parallel. Campfire tales evolved into heralds, standing at town centers to cry out news, official announcements, and, sometimes gossip. And this is where the Babylonians enter the picture, introducing the street barkers. 

Barkers are a simple concept. Pay someone willing to stand in public and yell out a message, repeatedly to passersby—whether it were public decrees by leadership, or a sale, or an event. During the rise of the Greco-Roman eras, barkers evolved into orators. Orators were actually trained in delivering messages with the objective of persuasion. Even when hired to regularly “broadcast” news at specific times of day in specific centers of the city, it was never done so with journalistic objectivity. Just like today, the message was not to be confused by the facts.

By the time of Julius Caesar, Rome had even introduced social media and innovated public relations. Romans were notorious for employing an ancient version of Twitter, which was the hiring professional “gossips” to spread the word on various subjects. These could be good or bad, but always juicy details—true or not—about politicians and policy, patrician celebrities, military leaders, or just something big coming, such as entertainment spectacles, gladiatorial combats, executions, or even market sales and particular product availability. Gossips worked the streets, eating establishments, social gatherings, the halls and anterooms of the Senate, etc. 

"Romans were notorious for employing an ancient version of Twitter."

Many gossips and her­alds mined their fodder from Julius Caesar, himself an adept public-relations hound. While on his Gallic conquests, he sent dispatches back to Rome, highlighting his exploits and victories, as well as providing a detailed accounting of the spoils of war, which he won for distribu­tion among Roman citizens, thus earning their admiration. Individually, these were exciting press releases from the front. Ultimately, they would be assembled in what is called, The Gallic War: Seven Commentaries on the Gallic Wars, Caesar’s version of The Audacity of Hope. 

"Writing with a marcom purpose first appeared around 1800 BC."

Writing, however, did not originate with Rome. That honor goes back to ancient Persia—mainly within Babylonia, hovering around 2500 BC. But writing with a marcom purpose first appeared around 1800 BC in the form of a clay cone. While this artifact now resides in Paris’ Musée du Louvre, it was once passed around the citizens of Sippar, a town near ancient Babylonia. Its cuneiform inscription dates back to the time of King Hammurabi, the author of the famous Code of Hammurabi, which are decrees remarkably similar to the Ten Commandments, but predate the Commandments by 200-years. Nevertheless, the takeaway is that the “cone” was a keepsake, of sorts. It commemorated the Hammurabi’s building of city walls to protect Sippar during the first half of the 18th century BC.

It was almost a thousand years later when another Babylonian icon gave us more evidence of his culture’s marcom innovations. Cyrus the Great ruled over Neo-Babylonia, or more commonly called the vast Persian Empire, between 559 and 530 BC. To put this into perspective, it was during Cyrus’ time that tensions between Athens and Persia began, culminating in the Battle at Marathon, and later at Thermopylae, which made Sparta’s 300 so famous. And while Athens was somewhat irritated with Cyrus, the reality is that he was pretty tolerant leader—and considered a very progressive thinking one. We get this from the Cyrus Cylinder.

The Cyrus Cylinder is just that, a terracotta cylinder with a lot of cuneiform writing all over it. The author was a master at writing to fit. In just 45 lines of text, the content is reminiscent of either a State of the Union speech, or an annual report—perhaps both. Subject matter includes an in­troduction reviling Cyrus’ predecessor, while associating Cyrus with a popular deity, including a prayer on behalf of Cyrus. It further details Cyrus’s royal titles and genealogy, and his peaceful entry to Babylon. The author also commends Cyrus’s policy of restoring Babylon, and declares that Cyrus improved the lives of citizens, enabled the people to live in peace, repatriated displaced peoples, and restored temples and cult sanctuaries, as well as increased the offerings made to the gods. Finally, it lists and details the Babylonian public-works activi­ties ordered by Cyrus.

"Cyrus was extolling his brand in quite a sophisticated manner—this cylinder was essentially his value proposition to the people of Babylon." 

Cyrus was extolling his brand in quite a sophisticated manner—this cylinder was essentially his value proposition to the people of Babylon. No doubt that Cyrus the Great was a peach of a king, but the Cyrus Cylinder is a gem of propaganda. The British Museum, where the cylinder is housed, describes it as an artifact of Mesopotamian “propaganda that reflects a long tradition in Mesopotamia where, from as early as the third millennium BC, kings began their reigns with declarations of reforms.”

The Cyrus Cylinder also reveals another Babylonian marcom innovation, “sponsorships.” We think of corporate logos plastered all over stadiums and skyscrapers, but the whole idea was born out of Babylon. Sponsorships allowed kings to stencil their names on the public works they’d constructed—temples, bridges, gates, stat­ues or obelisks. Not just their names, mind you, but their deeds were carved or etched into stone, extolling their awesomeness. In effect, they put their stamp on something seen by everyone who either lived in their territory or visited it.

The modern evolution of sponsorships was already evident by the time of the Colosseum in Rome. Senators and other influencers purchases box seats at the arena—not unlike having season tickets and suites at today’s stadiums. They carved their name or message on the stone facing the center of the stadium so that citizens attending the games or event, would get a messaging “touch.” This tactic has not changed.

"But their deeds were literally carved     or etched into stone, praising their awesomeness."

Modern communicators like to think they are clever—espe­cially the gorilla marketers. But even then, the ancients were way ahead. Besides directly displaying their obvious charms to potential clients, prostitutes of the ancient world used a very clever chan­nel. The soles of their sandals were carved so they left an imprint that read, follow me on the ground as they walked. Talk about tracking your results.

Along one of the main roads in the ancient Greek port of Ephesus, there are well-worn cement blocks. In the lower corner of many of these pavers is the etching of a woman, presumably Aphro­dite. Beside her is an impression of a left foot, which supposedly tells one to look on the left side of the street. There are other images carved into the stone, but the according to guides, these stones are early adver­tisements, essentially saying that, “If you walk straight along this road, you will find women on the left side of the street. They will give you loving for a price.” In other words, this was an ad for a local brothel.

"Marks identifying a particular brothel engraved into paver stones denoted some level quality..."

Similar stones can be found in other ancient port cities. Marks identifying a particular brothel engraved into paver stones denoted some level quality, be­cause if the house could afford the stones or craftsmen to engrave them, then they must be of quality—or at least popularity. Very often, such marks were akin to logos, symbols used to convey identity. They were a referent for those unable to read or, at least, unfamiliar with the written language of the land that they were in. In the ancient world, logos were a quick conveyance of what something was or what one might have gotten out of it.

It's understandable to a degree that a persistent misconception is that logo and brand are synonymous. They are not. And for explanation sake, let's start with origins of the expression "branding." The term is taken from "firebrand"—using a red-hot stick or metal to burn a mark in something, including livestock. While most of us associate the latter with the American west, the Egyptians were doing it well before the Christian era. Regardless of whether you’re describing stockyards in Tanis or Tombstone, the idea is the same, and based on a unique or distinctive symbol burned into the flesh of horses, cattle, sheep or whatever. That symbol differentiates one person's livestock from another's. But that symbol, which could be interpreted as a logo, has absolutely zero value if you know nothing about it. The cow, and the resulting meat or breading stock, could be quality or questionable. The symbol is meaningless without something of perceived value or experience associated with it. And value—real or perceived—is where branding comes in. Indeed, that is what defines a brand.

"That symbol differentiates one person's livestock from another's. But that symbol, which could be interpreted as a logo, has absolutely zero value if you know nothing about it."

Branding is about reputation, and reputation is the brand—what a prospective buyer or even the receiver of a simple message expects from the seller or the message bearer. Word gets around when a merchant sells junk or treats customers poorly. We know (or should) which information sources are about fluff or intentional misdirection. Even in personal branding, there are those people whose opinions are trusted, and others less so. All of that equals what marcom professionals refer to as "expectation." Then as now, successful cultivation of expectation included the contemporary concept of "user experience," which is defined as a whole slew of things between a customer finding a merchant or service provider, to satisfaction after the sale. The essence of it all was the same as today, but especially crucial in the ancient world. The intended or desired public perception of one's brand depended on getting the word out—which meant using the channels of the day, including but not limited to gossips, orators, and clay cylinders—all firing up the Twitter of the ancient world, known as word of mouth.