Viral marketing, branding, and propaganda. It is the bane of modern existence. If by modern you mean about as far as the written record goes back.
Turns out “modern” marketing techniques are as old as dirt, even celebrity endorsement.
The most commonly known ancient celebrity endorsement of Ancient times was athletes, in Grecian times they were Olympians, in Roman times, mostly gladiators. Either way, a retired legendary athlete could make a comfortable living off of endorsements and making appearances, which was good because the payment for actually competing in the games could be as simple as a stalk of celery (say you were competing in Isthmian games)
But the best marketer in Ancient Greece, and possibly of all time, was Alexander the Great. He is the reason you wear pants, leaders/pageant winners wear sashes, lions are on so many things, and the reason the devil has horns. All of these things in our culture are because of Alexander and the greatest propaganda campaign the world has ever seen.
It is not that different than a winning formula today.
And it all starts with some rocking hair.
In advertising, branding is important. We know the ancients had brand name items, because they talk about it. Alexander may have been the first to pull of a signature hairstyle.
Alexander’s lional mane was an iconic feature of his. Focusing in the Mediterranean where lion iconography was associated with Heracles (commonly known as Hercules), Alexander’s image became inseperably tied with the image of Heracles, who he claimed was his brother because he was secretly the son of Zeus. This is a bit like getting everyone to picture you as Superman and think it’s awesome instead of dorky. People know Superman is powerful, they know he protects the American people and American ideology. Heracles was a similar figure. See Heracles wore a lion skin, which was his equivalent of a red cape or the S shield. It was iconic.
Alexander lathered his face all over everything he could with religious and powerful iconography. Above not only is he in the lional head dress, on the back multiple symbols of the Pharaoh and Egyptian royal divinity are depicted.
As he travelled east, iconography was used to present Alexander as the natural leader of whatever culture they were in, sometimes to surprising effect. It even earns him a mention in the Quran that may be the source of the horned Devil.
The iconic depiction of Alexander the Great with goat horns linked him to a number of ruling gods in the Mediterranean and Middle East’s pagan pantheons, which were overlapping and somewhat fluid connected webs of deities. However this iconography clearly struck a chord with early Muslims who ran afoul with the war lord, as his mention in the Quran includes a passage about Alexander’s father confessing that Alexander was born with these goat horns, an confession that Alexander is not human but a demon. This is the only mention of horns being associated with demons and evil in the Quran, yet it is clearly prominent. One of the things iconography and branding does is establish an “us” and a “them”. Here we see the horns being used for that on both sides. As Alexander used the horns to associate himself with the people of his empire, the Quran uses the horns to label Alexander a “them”, a evil “them”. (one can hardly blame them, Alexander’s merciless slaughter of the nomadic Muslim tribes of the time was perhaps some of his bloodiest conquering.
It’s the kind of marketing advertisers both dream of and fear. Similarly he brought the authoritarian sash and pants into western culture as he adopted them to project an air of rightful rule over the Persians. In doing so he brought his brands into such a strong mental and emotional association with the cultures of both regions that he forever changed both his own image and people’s image of the iconography itself. That is the hallmark of good advertising, not just getting your brand associated with an icon, but creating an icon that means something in the greater context of culture. How we view lions, and authoritarian sashes, and pants, and goat horns were all carved by how ancient culture viewed Alexander himself. It’s an exchange of emotional association any advertising giant can only dream of making on the subconscious of the world.