Ever wonder the difference between an allusion as opposed to an illusion? Most of us are more familiar with illusions, particularly optical illusions such as this famous one by Edward H. Adelson:
Color "A" and color "B" are actually the same color. Print the image and cut out each individual square. Hold them side by side to compare. You could also open the image in Photoshop and use the eyedropper tool to verify the colors are the same.
An allusion on the other hand, is a passing or casual reference whereby one refers covertly or indirectly to a person, place, event, or creative work. Most allusions are based on the assumption that there is an accepted body of knowledge shared by the author and reader. This can be real or imaginary, and the reference can be direct or inferred. Many enterprising writers from the entertainment industry partake in the practice of allusions.
Take the extraordinarily successful Hunger Games trilogy for example.
The author Suzanne Collins capitalized on several classical themes from Greek and Roman times. The most prominent being the Roman Colosseum, which played host to a large number of strikingly similar gladiator games that likewise featured savage combat with wild animals, struggles against man-made elements, horrifying executions, and grandiose parades. The lead character in the Hunger Games (Katniss Everdeen), bears no small resemblance to the Ancient Greek goddess, Artemis
Whether we make a conscious distinction or an unconscious distinction, the underlying Greco-Roman reference in the Hunger Games provides for greater comprehension and spares the audience a lengthy and tedious explanation. In the advertising industry, the use of allusions is trickier. If an advertisement makes reference to an obscure painting, film, mythical figure, or folklore, and the majority of the audience fails to identify the reference, then the advertising firm must go back to square one. See what I did there? One of my favorite allusions in advertising is the Volkswagen Commercial which features a little boy in a Darth Vader costume trying to summon "The Force." If you are at all familiar with George Lucas' Star Wars franchise, you have to love this one:
Popular paintings are often utilized to sell products, and Salvatore Dali's The Persistence of Memory (melting clocks) painting is a regular on the scene.
Here is another Pinocchio inspired allusion in the form of an infographic:
Songwriters from the music industry notoriously allude to mythology and some references are more overt than others. Consider the titles (and lyrics) in this batch of songs:
Immigrant Song - Led Zeppelin
Rhiannon - Fleetwood Mac
Venus - Lady Gaga
Don't Look Back - She & Him
Cry of Achilles - Alter Bridge
During their formative years, the progressive rock band RUSH would regularly allude to Greek gods and mythological creatures.
Here are a few RUSH titles from that time period:
Carve Away The Stone
Cygus X-1 Book 2: Hemispheres
Fountain of Lamneth
Several large corporate entities are influenced by the Ancient Greeks, and refer to Greek mythology via their business name and/or corporate logo.
Nike is named after the Greek goddess of victory.
Pandora was the first woman formed out of clay by the Greek gods. Her name means "the all-gifted." Today, Pandora is a popular internet radio company.
Saturn was the Roman name for Cronus, who was the father of Zeus, but also happens to be the name of a popular car company.
The Titans are an NFL team that plays in Nashville, Tennessee.
As a communication tool, allusions are one of the most interesting elements in everyday conversation. Have you ever made a statement like this, "Caffeine is my Achilles' heel" or "It's all Greek to me?" It is very likely you have. Allusions are a powerful tool to help provoke feelings beyond the literal meaning of our words. Let us know which expressions you cite most often in the Comments section below. We would love to hear from you!
Also, check out our next blog for tips on creatively placing images in the social media stream with a special focus on (mini) infographics. Infographics have become one of the most effective ways to drive traffic to your site and ultimately purchase your service or product.
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'Til next time, stay focused.