What a 17th Century Swedish Warship Can Teach Us About Marketing

The Vasa in Stockholm’s Vasa Museum © All That’s Interesting

What did marketing in the 17th century look like in Sweden? An infamous Swedish ship — the Vasa — is actually a great example.

Good marketing should appeal to one’s emotions. For better or for worse, monarchs, leaders, and tyrants have basically been marketing to the masses for centuries.

When I was in Europe this summer, I visited the Vasa Museum in Stockholm, a maritime museum featuring a salvaged 17th century Swedish warship. First of all, I didn’t realize that “marine archeology” was such a big thing in Sweden and the Baltic Sea. This is all thanks to the Baltic Sea’s low salinity and lack of wood-rotting mollusks, but I digress…

More to the point, I never really thought of warships beyond their practical applications, but these ships were built to be a purposeful display of a country’s strength and power.

How did they do this? They decorated the entire ship to the nines to show off their might.

Roman emperors like Titus lined the bow. This iconography was used to show that they were building an empire. Heroic figured from Greek mythology like Hercules also adorned the ship Personally, I found this historical mixing-and-matching pretty entertaining.

Recreations of the Vasa’s bow decor, including Roman emperors (left) and Hercules (right)

The stern itself had more of a local focus, so rather than try to describe it, here’s what the museum had to say:

“The sculptures were as important as the guns for the warship. Not everyone could read the symbolism in the classical figures, but most would recognize the Royal coat of arms, knights, and the Swedish national coat of arms, as well as cherubs and heroes in the Bible.”

The Vasa’s stern (left), as well as a scaled down replica in full color (right)

At the end of the day, “marketing is meant to create awareness, loyalty to, and positive feelings about a brand.” Sure, this is a bit of a stretch comparing a Swedish warship and national pride to a marketing strategy, but I‘ll say this:

It’s a lot easier to remember this feeling of awe as opposed to a list of the ships features & benefits.

One final thing for you to think about: The Vasa had poor ballast control. It capsized shortly after leaving the port for the first time when it was blown over and started taking on water. You still need to have a great product to back up great marketing!

I love drawing these types of parallels when I travel and maybe you do as well. I would love to hear your thoughts in the comments. Can you think of a time where traveling helped you reframe your perspectives or taught you something new that helped you in your career?

Me at Stockholm’s Vasa Museum, July 2022



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Chris Luecke

Chris Luecke

Sharing my experiences in business, travel, and lifestyle design through quippy yet constructive reflections. Proud St. Louisan now living in San Francisco.