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Walk Like an Egyptian

the 'Obies' origin...after 30 years

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obelisk by Antonio Salaverry shutterstock


OOH…Here’s One Thing

Walk Like an Egyptian

‘Obelisks and Empires of the Mind’



by Jim Johnsen,
Managing Director, Johnsen, Fretty & Company




If you are like me, you are in desperate need of finding some diversion from the current news.  I stumbled on and decided to read the History of Cleopatra.  Cleopatra a Life

Being an American and an engineer by training, my knowledge of “world history” is less than…ehem…Oxford worthy.  Little did I realize, that Cleopatra was not Egyptian at all but actually Macedonian (northern Greek) and a descendent of Alexander the Great.  Her name literally translates to glory (Cleo) of the father (patras).  The translation could also mean glory of the country btw.  It also turns out there were several Cleopatra queens during the reign of the Ptolemies from around 332 BC to 30 BC (and yes spoiler alert, she is responsible for taking down the whole empire).  

If you like history as much as I do, I would recommend the book.  It tells a much different story then the one we all remember in Elizabeth Taylor’s movie, Antony and Cleopatra.  Not that I wouldn’t have minded being Richard Burton in the movie as E.T. was no sight for sore eyes back then…but I digress.   The book does a great job setting the landscape of ongoing Roman civil war during this period, Caesar and Pompey’s attempt to win the civil war by appealing to Egypt’s king, Cleopatra’s brother and husband (ya you heard that right), Pompey loosing his head for doing so and Caesar receiving house arrest.  In a crazy turn of events, the outcast Cleopatra sneaks back into the country in a potato sack, gets dropped off in Caesar’s chambers and soon thereafter Cleopatra is running Egypt and Caesar has control of the Roman Empire…at least for a short time.  

Okay Johnsen.  Thanks for the history lesson. So what’s the point?  Well, it got me thinking.  Thirty years I’ve been in this industry and for the all that time I’ve just accepted OAAA’s position that obelisks were used for advertising.  In fact, that belief is further cemented in the Obie awards:   

“The OBIE Awards. The oldest and most prestigious honors for creative excellence in out of home advertising design. OBIE, short for obelisk, refers to the ancient stone pillars that served as the foundation of modern advertising–where posts and pictures informed the masses in town squares across ancient Egypt, and then around the world.” (from obieawards.com

This weekend, I decided to fact check their position.  And I may have missed it, and I may get shot for saying this…but no where could I find a source that confirmed the obelisk was used for advertising or for commercial messaging for that matter.  I didn’t do an exhaustive search by any means but I did peruse a few seemingly scholarly works:




http://honorsaharchive.blogspot.com/2008/08/legacy-of-obelisks-of-rome.html  (okay per this article the Romans stole a bunch of the obelisks and prostituted their use…leave it to the Romans).

As far as I can tell, obelisks in ancient Egypt had a sacred purpose, not a commercial one, usually serving as a center point for a temple and honoring a god or a king who declared himself a god.  So yes, I am calling bullshit on the ‘Obies’ origin…after 30 years.  Feel free to send a bazooka in my direction.

Not crazy about this Bangles song… Walk Like an Egyptian but it does fit!

A good Monday to you all.  


Jim Johnsen


Securities transacted through StillPoint Capital Member firm FINRA/SiPC


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  1. Brad says

    I always understood OBIE stood for outdoor & billboard industry excellence.. Or some such thing. Of course I was also told Brian Obie of Obie Outdoor liked to say it was his firm’s idea, but I knew that was total bs. So who knows, maybe an obelisk was the origin. They seem popular right now.

  2. Stephen Freitas says

    There may be some urban legend associated with the origins of the OBIE Awards. But here is an article that suggests the OBIE’s pedigree may actually be Indian more than Egyptian. In fact, the icon second on the left looks surprisingly like a billboard.


  3. No Fear No Favor says

    Thank you Stephen,
    Yes I exchanged emails with Saikrishna Gajavelly on this over the weekend. He provided the information and video Saturday.
    I am not sure I want to declare this ‘finding’ legitimate at this point. Are you?

    Saikrishna is tying and promoting his business to it too readily and aggressively, for my comfort, creating is a red flag for me in accepting its authenticity without more background.

    Obviously, you have accepted the information to a degree of credibility or you would not have mentioned it.
    What is your degree of confidence? Do you know Saikrishna Gajavelly prior to this revelation he has shared?

    We would like to pursue your direction in ‘some urban legend associated with the origins of the OBIE Award’. Please tell us more.

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