Poetry in advertising: misused or too much used?

The most common trouble with advertising is that it tries too hard to impress people.

~James Randolph Adams 

When we think of business and poetry, our first association comes to advertising. And there is a good reason for that. Many companies aware of the power of language, use short, minimal poems that often rhyme with aim to attract customer’s attention and with memorable fable just try to get “stuck” to their minds. From one point of view, poetry is the ultimate, sophisticated artful use of language, a beautiful tool one can use to express emotions, thoughts, experience, where advertising is not even a “stand alone” art. As it is described in the paper Poetry and Advertising:

it is the handmaiden of commercial motives; its name carries connotations (well earned, one might add) of halfruths, deception, and outright fraud, of appeals to vanity, fear, snobbery, and false pride…

But, we shouldn’t forget that poetry and advertising, do have much in common: a tendency for putting what we want to say in rhyme, following specific rhythm and words so precise in their “attack” on our unconscious thinking. They intent to give meaning to everyday life events and subjects, using symbolism and metaphor to express ordinary world. The emotional response that poetry retrieves from customers often means an immediate engagement and we can see how multinational corporations are using poetry to promote their products. For instance:

A narrated ad for McDonald’s (“the Gothy types and scoffy types and like-their-coffee-frothy types were just passing by“) or very good example of the use of more traditional poem like in the Levi’s commercial:   “I see their knavery: this is to make an ass of me; to fright me, if they could. But I will not stir from this place, do what they can: I will walk up and down here, and I will sing, that they shall hear I am not afraid.”

“Midsummer night dream” is a Shakespeare’s classic and here it is stripped down from its original meaning and put into a whole different context. It offers new, refreshed interpretation where a love story is translated into our modern infatuation with fashion. Very interesting approach.


In one of the Guardian articles  they interviewed two contemporary poets and asked for their opinion on the use of poetry in commercials. Roger McGough, a performance artist from Liverpool wasn’t that happy with use of poetry in advertising, since it’s usually “distasteful and not respectful enough”.

On the other hand Nick Toczek welcomes the exposure that advertising offers poetry:

Shakespeare would have thought commercialism was worth it. Populism is good. The more language matters to people the better.

At the end of the day, good poetry is a sincere appreciation of sadness, love, joy – and even death. And that appreciation comes both from poet and the reader. It’s hardly ever going to be found in the cheeseburger or a bowl of candies, because as poetry did get its role in advertising, the real purpose of poetry is to convey something much more deeper and bigger.