Look back 1,600 years to see what’s ahead

When I read books—no matter the subject—I try to relate them to work and agency life. I recently finished Delphi: A History of the Ancient World, by Michael Scott.

These three aphorisms from the fifth century CE are inscribed on the temple of Apollo at Delphi:

  • “Know thyself”
  • “Nothing in excess”
  • “An oath leads to perdition”

They were likely meant as instructions to visitors to Delphi who were about to receive a consultation from the Oracle.  

The first two inscriptions are well known today and often repeated as common wisdom. The third is less known. I have seen an alternate translation as “Make a pledge and mischief is nigh” or, more plainly, “Guarantee something to someone and you will be destroyed.”

I’m intrigued by the third inscription. How does this apply to marketing?

I imagine a present-day CMO visiting Delphi to glean advice for 2016. How might the inscription apply to him or her? A modern marketing interpretation might be to avoid the dogma and doctrinaire certainty of the traditional media mix. Perhaps it is a call for more testing and experimentation, more openness to change, innovation, and research and development. Maybe it’s a call to reimagine and reconfigure the marketing budget allocation?