Poetry is often thought of as a type of high art, a type of art that is created for the betterment of art as a whole; in most people’s minds, poetry is concerned with heavy themes like life, love, or death. Poetry may even seem to be completely inaccessible to some people, depending on their level of familiarity with the art form. However, poetry has seeped into the modern advertising world quickly and quietly. Today, there are many different types of businesses in many different industries using poetry as a method of advertising; how and why they have done so will be examined in depth here. Poetry in advertising can be split into two basic categories, defined by the type of advertising: in print advertising, poetry is written, while in television or otherwise spoken advertising, it is often used in song lyrics.
Poetry used in spoken advertisement spots, such as television ads, often takes the form of a song or a jingle. The purpose of these little poems are to be quick and memorable; they are designed to stick in the listener’s head long after the commercial is over (Hickman). For example, Band-aid has become absorbed into the modern consciousness as the generic term for adhesive bandages because of the success of their jingle (Morris). The Band-aid jingle, which was a mere two lines, won the creator a Clio Award and changed American English forever (Morris). Although Band-aid does not necessarily use the jingle in every commercial anymore, it remains stuck in the American cultural consciousness: “I’m stuck on Band-aid braid, ‘cause Band-aids stick on me!” is one of the catchiest little two-line poems to come from American advertising. Similar jingles can be seen in other advertisements; Folger’s instant coffee, for instance, also became popular with their “Best Part of Waking Up” jingle. These jingles function as sticky little poems in a listener’s memory, always short and irritatingly memorable.
Aside from jingles, however, there has been a trend towards poetry in print advertising in recent years. No longer content with a single line of text, many companies-- particularly athletic gear and clothing companies-- have moved towards using larger amounts of text in their advertisements (Zinkhan). According to Zinkhan, “While there’s no definite definition of what makes good poetry, many poets agree with Coleridge that poetry is ‘the best words in their best order.’ This works for copywriting in advertising as well. Just like in poetry, good copywriting requires the writer to understand the relationship of their words in order to create meaning for their audience. And though advertising is perhaps the exact opposite of poetry, it’s hard to ignore the connection. Using the best words in their best order can also attract attention to the brand or product And it can make it memorable” (Zinkhan). Making ads memorable is incredibly important for companies like Nike or Adidas, whose only real corner on the market is to set themselves apart from their competitors in brand loyalty and recognition. The differences between athletic gear companies are slight, and advertising makes a large difference in sales for companies like these.
The brand Nike seems to be at the forefront of innovations in advertising. Their “Find Your Greatness” campaign, introduced in 2012, was preceded much earlier by their “Just Do It” campaign. The “Just Do It” campaign was one of the first to introduce the free-form poetry style into advertising. This campaign featured a woman in each photo, pointing out one part of her body. One ad reads, “My shoulders/aren’t dainty/or proportional to my hips/some say they are like a man’s./I say leave men out of it./They are mine./I made them in a swimming pool/then I went to yoga/and made my arms./Just do it” (Hickman). This advertisement holds homage to the feminist slam poetry of the sixties and seventies with its staccato beat and blank verse; it also gives the viewer a sense of empowerment, as though the Nike Women brand can truly represent them in a way that other brands cannot.
The Nike Women ads use some traditional literary devices in their poetry; the “My Butt” advertisement claims that the woman’s butt is “round like the letter C,” using simile and later metaphor to describe the woman’s butt and all the things it can do for her (Hickman). There is a powerful message in these ads, and a kind of righteous anger; the language used reflects the sentiment of famous feminist speakers, like the caged bird of Maya Angelou or even the “Ain’t I a Woman?” sentiment of Sojourner Truth. The Nike Women ads spoke directly to their target audience; so much so, in fact, that they are still easily recognizable long after the end of the campaign.
Nike’s newer “Find Your Greatness” campaign has elicited a similar response. It began with a viral video, and a spoken version of the poem that would later appear in print (“Nike Launches 'Find Your Greatness' Campaign”). The “Find Your Greatness” campaign is similar to the Nike Women’s “Just Do It” campaign in that it uses text to reach its audience, an audience that perhaps feels as though normal advertisements for athletic clothing do not represent them as a whole very well. Athletic clothing companies are faced with a unique problem, as many Americans are overweight and very few fit the ideal body type presented by the media; however, using out of shape or unattractive people in advertising for athletic gear would be counterproductive. For this reason, Nike’s strategy is very effective. The diction of the ad is positive and empowering, giving viewers the sense that although they may never be world-class athletes, Nike as a brand appreciates their attempts at greatness within their sphere of ability (“Nike Launches 'Find Your Greatness' Campaign”). The ad uses comparison and paradoxical language extremely well-- the repetition of “it’s not” and “this is” in the structure of the poem is incredibly powerful. Repetition and contrast allow the copywriters to set a new frame of context for the viewers of the advertisement: one in which they are not separate from those who have achieved greatness, but instead that they are part of that greatness in their own lives.
Poetry can be used in advertisement in a variety of different ways, both effectively and ineffectively. Poetry in jingles and slogans is a long-standing tradition in advertisement, but the tradition of written poetry in advertisement is somewhat newer. With the growth of the Internet and the ability of people to share pictures and video via social media, however, ad campaigns like Nike’s have become wildly successful.
Hayakawa, S.I. "Poetry and Advertising." Poetry: A Magazine of Verse, 67. 4 (1946): 204-212. Online.
Hickman, Leo. "The rise of poetry in advertising." The Guardian, December 1. 2009: Online.
"The Levi’s Brand Debuts 2012 Go Forth™ Global Marketing Campaign." Levistrauss.com, 2013. Web. 23 Oct 2013. <http://www.levistrauss.com/news/press-releases/levi-s-brand-debuts-2012-go-forth-global-marketing-campaign>.
Morris, Kat. "The Poetry of Advertising." Advertising Week, 6th June. 2013: Online.
"Nike Launches 'Find Your Greatness' Campaign." NIKE, Inc., 2012. Web. 24 Oct 2013. <http://nikeinc.com/news/nike-launches-find-your-greatness-campaign-celebrating-inspiration-for-the-everyday-athlete>.
Zinkhan, George M. "From the editor: poetry in advertising." Journal of Advertising, 23. 4 (1943): --. Online.