Straight to the Heart

The Power of Poetry in Branding

I get really excited about poetry.

And, I’m not just talking about the kind that comes from dusty academic libraries, or finger-snapping hipster cafés.

I’m talking about the poems that connect you with other human beings, in the abstract, blurry way the mind and heart truly operate. The ones that help you understand another person, yet feel understood at the same time.

As a diehard poetry fan (and, okay, a bit of a weirdo), I truly believe everyone, everywhere, deserves to experience its magic, no matter what their background is.

So, when I see poems weaved into popular advertisements, I get even more excited. That’s exactly what poetry is meant to do: connect with the larger population on an emotional, visceral level.

If it’s done right—if the ad respects the artist, the message is nuanced and the purpose is positive—it can be one of the most powerful advertising and branding tools out there. With that in mind, I thought I’d share a few of my favourite poetry-based ads that recently circulated the airwaves. I’ll drill down what really makes them so impactful, and how you can emulate their techniques.

There’s Reason to Rhyme

Who else saw this Apple ad during the Rio 2016 Summer Olympics? Written and narrated by poetry legend Maya Angelou, her words and cadence have such a quiet simplicity that it really makes you stop and listen.

There’s a basic “A-B-C-B” rhyme scheme going on here—very pleasing to the ear that it’s almost musical. Why do our ears like this predictable repetition of sound? Well, we probably all know that the human brain thrives on patterns. But, did you know that our minds actually understand, believe and remember rhyming ads better? (“Bounty the Quicker Picker Upper,” anyone?)

In fact, all those sound techniques you learned in your seventh grade Language Arts class—alliteration, assonance, consonance, repetition—are essential devices in every copywriter’s tool belt. They don’t just make us sound like fancy wordsmiths. They actually improve your writing’s fluidity and rhythm, helping your message flow in readers’ minds.

Use these devices in your writing (carefully and judiciously), and you’ll notice how much they strengthen your style. Sound techniques can be especially effective in headlines, often your first and only chance to resonate with your audience.

Colour the Senses

The poet in this compelling Global Citizen ad is Ian Keteku, a World Poetry Slam champ from Alberta. This video covers very tough global issues like poverty, pollution and refugee displacement. Yet, somehow it feels intensely personal and relatable (and not just because of the Pokémon Go reference).

What about this ad makes us feel all the feels? It’s the imagery—both Ian’s words and the clips that accompany them. It paints a beautiful picture of Canada, the concrete jungles within it, and the people sitting, staring and waiting for something to change.

In this ad, Global Citizen follows the number one rule of poetry: Show, don’t tell. It isn’t stating what or how we should feel. Instead, it uses highly descriptive words to engage our senses with the world around us.

So, when you want to inspire intense empathy in your audience, build a scene dripping, reverberating and emanating with imagery. (See what I did there?) Think about what you want them to see, hear, feel, taste and smell. Keep this in mind, and you’ll teleport straight into their brain and heart.

Put Your Soul into It

Here’s another gem from the 2016 Olympics. This SportChek ad was on CBC pretty much non-stop, but I still got goosebumps every time it came on.

The poem was written and narrated by award-winning NWT treasure, Shane Koyczan. You may recognize him from his offbeat yet patriotic performance at the Vancouver 2010 Winter Olympics.

The metaphors and symbolism in this ad are incredibly poignant. It’s all about the proverbial battle with self-doubt and failure—something that not just athletes, but every person on this planet experiences. That’s the power of metaphor: It takes a very abstract concept, and transforms it into a crystal-clear idea or emotion.

Many businesses feel hesitant to step outside the literal when communicating about their company. But, notice the crazy thing about this ad? SportChek never once said, “We sell sports apparel and equipment.” The ad’s words and images come together to symbolize the spirit of competition and self-improvement—the very essence of SportChek’s brand.

So, what does your organization represent? What’s your spirit, your reason for being? That’s the job of your brand language to communicate. Your tagline, key messaging and copy should all convey your brand essence across every medium, no matter if it’s print, digital or experiential.

Poetry in Motion

Sound techniques, imagery, metaphors, symbolism—FREE’s writers are immersed in these linguistic devices daily. Yes, we borrow them from the strange and often nebulous world of poetry, but when it comes to shaping your brand and its story, these techniques have a profound impact.

Be sure to follow these examples and tools to inject a bit of poetic flair into your writing. But, if you need more help uncovering your brand essence, language and messaging, well, that’s what our Brand Development process is all about. Drop us a line to learn more about how it works.