Even if it seems an improbable one, the association between poetry and advertising is not a new one. As it often happens when you have a new idea, someone else has had it before. In my case, it’s S. I. Hayakawa, who published an article titled “Poetry and Advertising” as early as January 1946. So, 74 years later, here I am, preparing a course that starts with making the same assumptions.
Luckily, as it often happens when someone else has had the same idea as you, it somehow means you are on to something. And that something is that poetry is perceived as being for the select few, while advertising is for everyone. Yet, if you look deeper, both use rhyme and rhythm, connotative values, words and images that determine responses at an unconscious level. Both try to give meaning to everyday experiences. Both give objects symbolic values. Both can conjure some universal feeling through an unfamiliar creation. Both know how to evoke a particular emotion in their audience, even if you’ve never felt it before.
“In her presence, all that was beautiful before she arrived turned grotesque, and, in her shadow, others became goblinesque” ends up in an AXE commercial. But as easily can “She walks in beauty, like the night / Of cloudless climes and starry skies;/ And all that’s best of dark and bright/ Meet in her aspect and her eyes” end up in a shampoo commercial. Because both are love odes.
You can remix Sinatra’s ‘My Way’ over and over for Adidas, and you can as surely be a Cento poet that composes entirely with lines from poems by other poets. You can tell a happy ending backwards like the car brand Vauxhall does with fairytales, or like Ada Limón with “We linger on the field’s green edge / and say, / Someday son, none of this / will be yours.“
We live in a time when Shakespearean literature can not only inspire hearts and minds, but it can promote the BBC as well. And, speaking of Shakespeare, in his time (or even in Hayakawa’s for that matter), there was no Facebook, no Instagram, no TikTok or any other form of content that so massively competes for people’s attention.
This is one more thing that advertising and poetry have in common: competing for attention. “Read me” doesn’t only apply to banners. In this matter, advertising has more tools to use. Because its primary function is to sell. And one cannot wait for the muse to sell. There are deadlines involved, there is a whole machinery that depends on that. One way or the other, you have to be creative. In these busy times, you have to come up with the best reasons for people to reward you with their most precious gift: their time.
I write poetry, but I also write ads. And I can say that Bernbach was right: “A blank page and a blank television screen are one and the same“. Writing for the screen can make you a better poet, training you, as it does, to continually ask yourself “What do I have to say?” and “Why would someone listen?”.
On its best days, advertising is almost as profound as poetry. And on its best days, poetry is as powerful as advertising. This course is for those who believe that the perceived barrier between poetry and advertising can be broken down or, at least, overcome. That poetry can reach everyone, not just the select few. It is for those who do not dismiss advertising as frivolous, but who are willing to see the intuitiveness in advertising and use its resourcefulness to shape poems. Better poems. Different poems.
Book here for Silvia Grădinaru‘s online Studio course “Poetry & Advertising”, running as part of our Spring Term 2020.
Silvia Grădinaru is from Câmpina. She now lives in Bucharest and has been working in advertising for 8 years. She entered the Guinness Book of World Records in 2012, as co-author of the fastest (collective) novel ever written. She has published and translated poetry, written book reviews and has been an editor for various magazines. In 2012, she wrote her debut volume, L`enfant terrible. In 2019, she performed poetry at Balkan Trafik in Brussels, in opening of a band concert. www.silviatgradinaru.com