Literature & Marketing: How the Humanities Create Critical Thinking Minds in Professionals

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My academic focus in college was Comparative Literature. If you think of studying history as a way to learn the events and actions that took place over a period of time, to gain a better understanding of society or governments... then you can apply that same lens to literature.

Literature is a good snapshot of what individual people were thinking. Looking back into novels, plays, poetry, you can gain insight about what people of that time were struggling with what they thought was cool, what they were worried about, and what they valued.

Critics of poetry and prose always attempt to infer what authors were motivated by; or the reasons as to why they took a particular position or constructed their story around a certain subject.

The point is that opinions change. You can take a single piece of poetry from one-hundred years ago... and track what critics had to say in their analysis of it, every decade. You can even track the changes of opinion over time, and use that data to infer your own insights as you overlay those opinions on the larger historical timeline.

In doing this, you find that some concepts come full circle. A radical idea isn't so radical. New ideas aren't that new... they just have different window dressing.

What Good Is This?

By practicing this type of comparative analysis, you can get your mind used to thinking is this retrospective way. When you're presented with new technology, new platforms, new channels, new problems... you're more inclined to think backwards, and find similarities to previously existing examples of what you're working with.

Like completing a newspaper maze from the FINISH backwards towards the START, obstacles you might come across aren't so complicated because you can apply existing learned knowledge and experience to new actions.

You won't be predicting the future, but at least you're not coming to the NOW empty handed. Thinking like this makes it easier to make changes quickly and with insight. A/B testing has focus when you already know the full alphabet.

Real World Applications

Look at how people treat things. Seldom do we actually change the way we take in new information or content; it's always through reading, listening, or watching.

Do your own research on both how people consume media and how advertisers deliver it? Then it's not so much of a stretch to look at Facebook ads as a modern form of Direct Mail. Instagram becomes a magazine rack. TV and Radio are getting all kinds of comparable substitutes in the form of podcasts, or "TV" long form video on YouTube, Facebook, and Instagram.

My Point Is...

That while it's a good idea to scope out the competition (what other people/brands similar to you are doing), that shouldn't be the end of your research. It should be the beginning. Pull that thread more, and apply what you learn to how you observe people using these channels and when they're using them.

Layering levels of analysis and critique, comparing them to past trends, and trying to extrapolate connections can give you some informed insight onto how you might change your own practices.


Nothing exists in a vacuum. You won't find ways to alter, course correct, or pivot your practices unless you throw things into the open and get varying opinions on them.

Revision, corrections, and changes aren't the enemy. It's simply just part of the process. Having this mindset is valuable because it can prevent too eager or impatient eyes from killing a process before it's been matured.

Ryan CaldaroneComment