Anachronisms and Allusions in Your Marketing and Business Content (Why Not?)

When traveling solo, it's best not to have an Amelia Earhart moment (yes, that was an allusion)...
When traveling solo, it’s best not to have an Amelia Earhart moment (yes, that was an allusion)…

In previous blog posts offering writing tips, I had some fun with literary devices such as alliteration, similes, and metaphors. Continuing in that proud tradition, I will broach a lively discussion of two additional literary tricks you might consider adding to your marketing content toolbox.

One such device is an anachronism. No, it has nothing to do arachnophobia (although many of us do share this squeamish fear). The other bit of writing tomfoolery I want to throw your way is the use of allusion. Alas, this is not a figment of your creative-writing imagination.

Ready for another throwback (Thursday or not) blog post that will dredge up your most revered (or feared) memory of English composition class from high school or college? Then pick up your finest ink-dipped quill and prepare to compose it like Shakespeare (or Dickens, or all three Brontë sisters).

One of These Things Doesn’t Belong (Because It’s Anachronistic): Quite simply, an anachronism is placement of a person or thing into a time period in which it doesn’t belong chronologically. This means you can insert something “from the future” (like, um, an electric toothbrush) into a story taking place during Jane Austen’s beloved Regency Period (circa early 1800s England).

On the flip side, if you’re writing something contemporary or futuristic, you can slyly insert an object/thing that no longer exists or is considered antique/vintage. Oh heck, movies and TV commercials use anachronisms all the time for their comedic value (e.g., Mel Brooks’s Blazing Saddles; James Cameron’s Titanic; Geico’s “So Easy, a Caveman Can Do It”).

Here’s how you might turn a phrase into anachronistic sleight of hand:

“Each accountant in our firm has all the modern conveniences of calculation available: fingers and toes, clay tablets, and a communal abacus.”

“My great-great-great grandfather was the best Monopoly player in the entire Confederate army; sweeping up Boardwalk and Park Place always resulted in several enthusiastic rebel yells.”

Here are several potential (visual) marketing or advertising anachronisms:

  • Putting an iPhone or Kindle in the hand of the Stay Puft Marshmallow Man from Ghostbusters I
  • Decorating photos or images of flappers from the 1920s with Rainbow Loom® bracelets
  • Displaying King Henry VIII in a side-by-side comparison where one half of the photo shows him wearing a pair of SPANX® for men

Your Medusa of a Mother-in-Law Is No Illusion (But This Example Is Allusive): Not to be confused with an anachronism, an allusion is a reference in your content to a well-known character, famous event, or iconic thing (regardless of its actual time period). When you make an allusion, you do so as a passing comment – you don’t bother to go into detail with an explanation of the allusion’s meaning or reference point. You expect people to “get it.”

Please note – this is not a metaphoric comparison between two unlike things or concepts. Consider allusion the “hit and run” of literary devices (if you must). I offer it as another way to spice up your marketing content and business writing efforts:

“Every Oktoberfest, our in-store studio is alive with ‘The Sound of Music’ (schnitzel with noodles is optional).”

“Fad diets only result in frustrating up-and-down weight loss. Add a little Jack Lalanne to your routine!”

“The very first time you put on one of our luxury cashmere bathrobes for men, you’ll be Hugh Hefner-cool…

And, these are a few of my favorite…literary allusions:


For more background knowledge (before you go South of the Border adding flair to your print or web marketing content), read these respective articles regarding anachronisms and allusions.

Are you now motivated to sample either of these literary devices for a pending marketing campaign? Are you brave enough to tread the road not taken? If you do decide to let your anachronistic or allusive flag fly, don’t hesitate to share your written or visual creativity here. Until next year (that would be tomorrow), gentle readers…

Lori Shapiro is the owner of By All Writes LLC, a business-to-business (B2B) writing, editing, and research company in Marlton, New Jersey. She revels in shielding her clients from the pain of writing their own print and web marketing copy. Please call Lori Shapiro at 856-810-9764 or email By All Writes LLC at  for a no-obligation project quote today!

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