Poetry in advertising: 7 companies that do it well (and one that doesn’t)

I’ve noticed that an increasing number of companies are using poetry to cut through the noise of TV advertising and capture viewers’ attention. It’s a smart move because one of the purposes of advertising is to make the target audience remember the product or service, and what could be more memorable than using a powerful spoken word piece instead of predictable promotional speak?

Here are seven examples of adverts which use poetry to powerful effect, and one example which I think misses the mark.

Nationwide: Voices

They’ve divided opinion, with some people complaining they’re too ubiquitous and a bit contrived, but I love the Nationwide Voices adverts for the sheer range of subjects and styles the poems represent.

Some of the poems have received more airtime than others but my favourite is this one by Hollie McNish about the responsibility of being a parent; it’s relatable, delivered beautifully and (as with many of the other poems) it encourages the viewer to make their own connection between the subject matter and the advertiser. I think these two lines in particular are a great reflection of Nationwide’s values:

Each penny earned, each penny saved, each decision based on you,
Your name is there in flashing lights in everything we do.

giffgaff: Small Vs Big

You’d think that the actress in this advert had written the poem, considering how well she performs it in a single take, but it was actually written by the creative director of the campaign. It’s a great spoken word piece and I like how the simplicity of the shot allows the poem to take centre stage and draw you in.

giffgaff (a “sort-of-small” mobile network” which describes itself as “a David among Goliaths”) says it wanted to challenge the idea that big is better, and I think the way the poem imagines Big and Small as characters does a great job of this – especially the last two lines which describe the differences between mobile networks’ retention strategies:

Big says, “Stop! You cannot go. The computer says ‘No.’”
Small smiles. Says, “Hey, come out and play. Stay. ‘Cause you wanna stay.”

RSPCA: All of Us

Most people associate RSPCA adverts with tear-jerking images designed to coax the pounds out of your pocket, but this advert is a bit different to its previous efforts; the focus is on raising awareness rather than funds and the aim is to showcase the diversity of the RSPCA’s work.

According to the production company, the goal of the campaign was to “challenge perceptions of the work that the RSPCA does” and I think the combination of a poetic script with series of vignettes helps to achieve this. As a dog lover, I find the line “It takes moments not knowing / if they’re coming or going” especially poignant, as the scene shows a vet comforting a dog whose condition is touch-and-go.

Royal Navy: Michael’s Story

I’d seen a couple of “Made in the Royal Navy” adverts before but my poetry radar went off when I saw this one, so I paid closer attention to the words than I had with the others. The transformative nature of the story is enough to draw you in but the poetic script adds another layer to the narration (presumably by Michael, but probably by an actor).

I particularly like how, in the following lines, you can practically hear the capital letter on the second “him” as if to emphasise how much better Michael is for having joined the Royal Navy. The subsequent line’s use of “knew me”/”new me” is a nice touch too.

Time to cut the rope, get stuck in
Switch it up a notch, turn him into Him
You thought you knew me, but this is the new me
Introducing the true me, now salt water runs through me

Land Rover: Never Stop Discovering

Of all the adverts featured in this post, this is arguably the simplest; a short, staccato spoken word poem encourages the viewer to explore the great outdoors (preferably in a shiny new Land Rover).

You barely notice the dialogue is a poem at first (my husband actually asked me whether it qualifies as a poem at all) but I think it works well with the fast cut style of film editing; the scene changes with every couple of words spoken.

Ford: Don’t Go Quietly

This advert features an extract from the well-known villanelle Do Not Go Gentle Into That Good Night by Welsh poet Dylan Thomas (1914–1953).

Although the poem is about fighting the ageing process by living boldly, Ford seems to want its target audience to fight the monotony of corporate life by driving to work in a New Mustang. It’s a tenuous link but I still like the advert because it pairs classic poetry with modern life in a way which may help bring Dylan Thomas’ work to the attention of a new audience.

Under Armour: Unlike Any

Although this is an American campaign, I wanted to include it here because I love how Under Armour has used poetry to tell athletes’ stories in such an artistic, cinematic way. As the creative director acknowledges, the Unlike Any campaign is a departure from the brand’s usual sportswear adverts: “It doesn’t feel so much like advertising because it’s not so very loud and shouting a message out. In the past, the work has been a little more active, but this one is very delicate and almost observational. We just observe people and let the poet tell this beautiful story.”

There are five videos in the Unlike Any campaign, of which Misty’s video is my favourite; it’s also the only one without backing music, which I think makes the beautiful words even more powerful.

And the one that’s not so good… Coca-Cola: The Wonder Of Us

This may be an unpopular opinion but I think the poem in this advert (which first aired during the coveted fourth quarter ad break of the 2018 Super Bowl) is too marketing-y to be truly moving, and its message that “although we are all unique, there’s a perfect Coke for you” falls a bit flat when you consider that there are 7.5 billion people on the planet but only a few different types of Coke.

Although I like the overall message of diversity and inclusion, and it’s fantastic to see such a huge company giving poetry a global audience, I think Coca-Cola could have taken a leaf out of Nationwide’s book; their “Birth of the building society” advert is a much better example of how companies can commission an original poem to represent their core values.

Have you seen any other examples of poetry in TV adverts that you love or hate? Let me know in the comments.

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