Aurora Magazine

Promoting excellence in advertising

Selling Shakespeare

Updated May 03, 2016 03:04pm
How advertising has always turned to Shakespeare to lend itself a touch of class and justify recycling old ideas.

Shakespeare’s influence beggars all description. In this brave new world, his plays are not just staged. We perform them all the time. If your hair stands on end, if you are praised for being exceedingly well read, if your friends warn you not to wear your heart on your sleeve, life is imitating Shakespeare’s art. According to some people, the word ‘advertising’ was first used, if not created, by him as well! As they say, all the stories have already been told. Consequently, any space opera or science fiction blockbuster is a retelling of the Bible’s version of the story of Jesus Christ, with a side of Romeo and Juliet. Love stories, ranging from Hollywood romantic comedies, to Bollywood grand musicals, to our own dramas, are, in essence, a retelling of Shakespeare.

Advertising has always turned to Shakespeare for a touch of class or to justify recycling old ideas. The Bard keeps peddling everything from cigarettes to beer, to Lego, to cough syrup.

Nobody said that you had to be tasteful while making use of Shakespeare! So why does Shakespeare, a writer dead for 400 years, many of whose plays were essentially a repackaging of even older Nordic and European tales and legends, remain relevant today? The answer is that people are people. Our aspirations, desires, peeves, grudges and eccentricities don’t change. The Bard’s work is more about humans rather than place, with, witches, wizards, or other fantastical elements. ‘Knock-Knock’ and ‘Yo Mama’ jokes are also his ‘gift’ to mankind, making us wonder whether he had secret access to our thoughts and baser instincts?


This advertisement has a lot of conjecture in line with the Marlboro ad. It seems the merely tacking Shakespeare’s name to any product is thought to add class, elegance and sales to a brand. Even so, the truth is much deeper. Something about The Bard’s words and his characters, stirs us from within. We should not forget that he was a master of wordplay, a craftsman with the power to manipulate human emotions. There is no other explanation for how his work continues to lure readers, viewers and buyers, even those who have never read so much as a single line of his plays.


Barclays plays on an interesting angle. Most people who have not read or experienced the full gamut of Shakespeare’s works, assume his plays are love stories. The ad divides these emotions into a familiar finance-oriented graphic, the pie chart. Then it informs us it has no emotions! Shakespeare’s influence is not limited to print. There is a plethora of TV ads that reenact scenes from his plays, duly appropriated to suit the product in question. One of the most talked about examples is Levi’s 501, which used a scene from A Midsummer Night’s Dream and has the protagonists clad in, you guessed it, Levi jeans. Corny? Yes, but one of the most elegant, respectful, literarily aware adaptations of an ad copy. The protagonist “Bottom” changes his way, attracting the ardour of Tatiania. “Changed Bottom” – get it?

Red Bull conveniently adapts one of Shakespeare’s most iconic lines to ‘To fly, or not to fly – that is not the question’. It gives you “wiiings”! When this ‘elixir’ is taken away from Shakespeare in this ad, he predictably loses his mojo.

Even Google got into the act using lines from “As You Like It” to portray a happy, rich and fulfilling life led by a Google Plus user called Tom.

How are words written around 1600 relevant to a social network belonging to an Internet giant, today? What does Shakespeare have to do with a garment made from denim? Did he ever think that one day we will be using a witches’ brew of dubious ingredients to give ourselves ‘wings’? The answer is depressing in its simplicity. Shakespeare is one of the most enduring brands in human history. His uncanny ability to convey a symphony of the deepest human emotions means that his words today are relevant and relatable. As an added bonus, his stature makes his works avant garde, lending a whiff of class and prestige to any brand however well known he is by most sections of the global society. Thanks to the endless staging of his plays, films, sonnets and books about his works, he is a constant presence in our consciousness. Far be it for these brands to convey any intellectual depth by using Shakespeare; most of them do it for the brand and its perceived attributes. However, there are exceptions. Many brands have given Shakespeare due respect and while incorporating his sophistication into their product creating a seamless combination.

Easy Jet famously performed Romeo and Juliet on one of their flights. This is part of their campaign to support a petition to make April 23rd Shakespeare Day, an idea many will agree with. The icing on the cake is the execution: Shakespeare’s face stares at you from the side of an orange airplane. Given what Romeo and Juliet endure because of lack of communication, it is ironic that telecommunication companies Nextel, T-Mobile, At&t and Orange have referred to Romeo and Juliet in slightly different ways. Most use the source material for humour about miscommunication. The advertisement for Orange takes a different tack. The red roses, warm colours of the visual palette, the longing looks between the two actors stuck in separate skyscrapers and the music emphasise the romance good communication can yield. The ad shows a heart warming reunion of the two protagonists, walking towards each other and meeting in midair. A very elegant metaphor for cellular technology.

So here we have The Bard, peddling various consumer goods centuries after his death, and perhaps tossing and turning in his grave at this use of his legacy. But I am sure that there is some use of his words and works within the advertising world, that is an even match for his genius and industry, and it would certainly make him proud.