Classic Lit Makes for Classic Content Marketing

 In Content Marketing, Current Trends, Social Media

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“Sing, O muse, of the rage of Achilles, son of Peleus, that brought countless ills upon the Achaeans.”

Homer_British_MuseumWow. At more than 15,000 lines in Dactylic hexameter, the Iliad is not typical fodder for a content marketing campaign. And yet the Ancient Greek poem – written by Homer some 2,700 years ago – captured worldwide attention and took social feeds by storm last Friday, when more than 60 of Britain’s most acclaimed actors staged a free, live reading. Hundreds gathered in the British Museum’s Great Court to listen in person while thousands watched the livestream online. Set during the Trojan War, the Iliad tells of the battles and events during the weeks of a quarrel between King Agamemnon and the warrior Achilles (yes, the one with the weak heel). The event was a co-production of Almeida Theatre and the British Museum. All told, the event lasted more than 16 uninterrupted hours. Not only was this fantastic entertainment, it was phenomenal content marketing. Iliad_VIII_245-253_in_cod_F205,_Milan,_Biblioteca_Ambrosiana,_late_5c_or_early_6c Here are five reasons why:

1. Epic content, literally. Along with the Odyssey (also by Homer), the Iliad ranks among the oldest existing works of Western literature. Far from a stuffy treatise divorced from our world, it’s replete with gruesome descriptions of spears and swords an the damage they can do to the human anatomy. It is, according to Almedia, “an unparalleled exploration of what it is to be human in a cruel and beautiful world.”

2. Ridiculously on-brand. The event kicked off Almeida Greeks, a one-time festival featuring debates about ancient and contemporary culture. The British Museum is home to much ancient Greek statuary, including the famous Elgin Marbles.

3. Insanely simple execution. One podium, one backdrop. Actors performed in simple street clothes, taking and ceding the stage without fanfare. Even the livestream was simple: two cameras (one close-up, one wide angle) with minimal switching. The simple setup focused everyone’s attention squarely on the story.

4. The best of both worlds. At once intimate and global, the event combined the energy and risk of a live event with the immediacy and reach of social media. Almeida Theatre shared salient bits of the poem in 399 Tweets and provided behind-the-scenes interviews with actors fresh off the stage through Periscope. This judicious use of social added value and insight without taking away from the main event.

5. Gobs and gobs of passion. You could see it in the actors’ faces as they read, and you couldn’t help but be swept up by it.

Iliad Online

Marketers often forget that our electronic, wired, social, share-happy content culture is an oral culture – one in which people share information, values, and lessons by speaking to each other. Oral culture puts its emphasis on the here and now. Ancient Greece, too, lived in an oral culture.

“Everything is more beautiful because we are doomed. You will never be lovelier than you are now. We will never be here again.”

Much like the debates in the ancient Agora, the live reading was a one-time event; however, Almeida has plans in the works for a podcast series and a making-of video. Almeida hasn’t released the results of the event, but judging by my twitter feed on Friday, they’ve most certainly acquired a raft of new followers. Homer, too, has most certainly found a new audience.

History, poetry, and theatre all coming thrillingly alive on a Friday afternoon. I couldn’t turn away. Talk about storytelling.

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