Monday, November 03, 2008

Is Copywriting A Bit Like Poetry?



That was the question posed by a Radio 4 documentary broadcast yesterday, entitled 'Beanz Meanz Rhymz'... which included a brief contribution from me and Scowling A.D. (should be available here - our bit is at 25 mins in).

The presenter concluded there ARE similarities between copywriting and poetry, since both deploy a similar armoury of linguistic weapons, including rhyme, alliteration, rhythm, metaphor, simile and compression.

Most contributors agreed that these techniques help advertising messages penetrate the cranium and stay there. However, some of their examples ("You'll wonder where the yellow went when you brush your teeth with Pepsodent") were archaic.

So my contribution was to suggest that while you & I may remember tons of jingles and slogans from our childhood, the adults of tomorrow won't. What sticks in their heads is more likely to be the visual extravaganzas of Cog, Balls and Gorilla.

Or am I wrong?

34 comments:

Anonymous said...

Jingles and great slogans seem to be a thing of the past. Can anyone recall any brilliant lines in the last 5 years.

Jingles are naff but the seemed to work. Shake 'n' vac....

Anonymous said...

Didn't hear your bit Scamp but have to disagree with the statement that adults of tomorrow will remember ads like the ones you mention. The famous ad slogans and jingles of old had many different executions on top of them over several years. Those were they days when brands invested in long term brand building properties and stuck with them. Gorilla, Cog and Balls are one off disposable executions. They won't be remembered by folk outside of advertising in 2 years time let alone 20.

PH said...

The question's redundant in my humble opinion. It's fair to ask 'what ads do you remember?' when there are only 4 channels and everyone's sat glued to it. But with a million channels before you even get online, it's not a fair comparison. It's got nothing to do with 'visual ads being better than copy-led ads' and everything to do with the difference between 1972 and 2008.

Anonymous said...

if it could be that easily quantified, we'd be able to build a robot to make ads for us... thank satan that's not possible.

but i'm with anon 12:10. as business takes an increasingly short term view, advertising has to adapt to it, hence balls and monkeys.

Anonymous said...

'does exactly what it says on the tin' was a good line from the last 10yrs.

Anonymous said...

I don't know bout you but I'll be remembering some of those eyecatching banner ads.

That and Berries and Cream. Which I suppose is a jingle. But I'll be remembering the look on that idiot's face just after he has shrieked. Genius.

I'm going to look at it now.

Integral said...

I'M SURE a greater number of visually-led ads will be remembered than were in the past (partly because there are so frickin' many these days).

But I don't think kids will remember the likes of Balls, lovely as it is, over a great line.

People will remember the ads they repeated or re-enacted when they were wee.

And last time I checked*, it was pretty easy to belt out, 'Boom chicka wah wah!' or shout, 'Should've gone to Specsavers' when some hapless classmate walked into a door. Not so easy, though, to throw oneself down the hills of San Francisco.

(*Not that I ever have checked.)

Anonymous said...

I liked your point about images Scamp. And think there's something in it. Also agree with comments here about investments in brand building advertising. Times have changed. That Aussie Poet/Ex Adman nailed the similarities between poetry and advertising when he suggested poets and copywriters are both akin to lawyers seeking to sway our views, persuade us to feel or believe something using words, and I liked his idea that poets exist to provide titles for authors and screenwriters, funny, thanks for the hook up

Anonymous said...

I think you should look at contemporary ads and compare them to contemporary poetry.

When I started my creative writing degree, the first thing we were told was "never let a poem rhyme". Because it's naff and old fashioned. It was all about observation, honing into the tiny details of life, and saying a lot in a few words.

Which set me up a treat for writing ads, I can tell you.

Poetry's moved on. Ads have moved on. Society's moved on. But poetry and copywriting still use the same skills.

Anonymous said...

The programme came from a company called the advertising archives. I have just been checking out the web site.... absolutely amazing

Anonymous said...

Is poetry a bit like copywriting?

Would be an equally valid and equally absured question.

When you write copy, if you work in an agency that writes copy, you find meter is perhaps the biggest similarity.

Other than that, I think the writing technique is vastly different. Poetry is more similar to scuplture; Copywriting, oration.

Anonymous said...

If the Balls ad is working, people should be remembering "Colour like no other".

Anonymous said...

(...which is a bit of a rhyme, isn't it?)

Anonymous said...

Words are instant communication tools. Even when you write a letter, you know it is the message that the reader is looking for, not the actual words. Yes, we try to make use of the words that are most likely to sustain the message in a very powerful way. BUT… at the end of the letter the reader will only remember the message, not the words. It’s the same when reading ads. Images, unlike words, are not instantly built. BUT… images deliver the message at once, you don’t start reading an image pixel by pixel from the upper left corner to the lower right corner. So the image and the message are an unbreakable unit, a very impactful mix, which is the great advantage images have over words (good point, Simon). Memory stocks overviews of situations and isolated details, but not the entire liturgy behind them.

John said...

Interesting point 2.33. Modern copy is very much like chat. It's often conversational, and informal. It owes more to screenwriting than poetry, in that brands are more conscious of having a defined voice - having a literal "dialogue" with their audience.

As for gorilla, I'd argue the "copy" for the ad is "In The Air Tonight." When they changed it it fell flat on its arse.

rhayter said...

Putting yourself in the running for 'Copywriter Laureate", Scamp?

Anonymous said...

what is that? a trick question?

ads and poetry. my ass.

Rachel said...

Calm Down dear, it's only a commercial.

That seems to be the only one that's I can recall at the moment

boardwalk dollinge said...

it's a fatuous question, if you ask me (NEXT WEEK: HEY YOU GUYS WHAT IF RODIN HAD DESIGNED CHEERIOS WHAT DO YOU THINK THEY WOULD LOOK LIKE WOULD THEY BE DIFFERENT OR THE SAME????!!!!!!111).

yeah, copywriting's a bit like poetry. you take words and put them together in a certain order.

but then a horse is a bit like a coconut.

Anonymous said...

They call me the hiphop-potamus
cause I got flows that glow like phosphorous
Poppin off the top of this oesophageus
Not because I'm a water dwelling mammal from Africa
Called a hippopotamus I'm not a hippopotamus, I'm a hiphop-potamus
Where did you get the preposterous hypothesis that I was a hippopotamus?

Anonymous said...

Here's an instance of image-stays-text-will-fade-away: http://www.fubiz.net/blog/index.php?2008/10/31/2343-career-builder

Anonymous said...

Scamp
It'll hurt you, I know, but let's be realistic. They won't remember Gorilla, or Cog or Balls. Good jingles and slogans, however, live forever:
- Opal Fruits, Made...........
- I'd Rather have a bowl of......
- All Because the Lady.....
- Refreshes the parts.....
- I Bet He drinks
- Hello Tosh,
- A Mars a day, lets you...

Anonymous said...

I agree with the point - the most memorable stuff remains associated with words.

Balls was absolute genius. But it won't be remembered in the same way the words we use (the poetry) will.

Beanz Meanz Heinz is a great example. But not the best. It's catchy and jingle-like and that works, and the fact that Leo Burnett has stuck with it and Heinz has spent gazillions on it also helps it to enter the cultural arena.

But words that collide with a social context are better.

I'm going to risk the wrath of the UK centric bloggers here, but what the heck.

'You don't have to be Jewish to love Levy's.'

DDB and the Mad Men on Madison at their best. They weren't just happy punsters but the words they used carried real power and meaning.

'We try harder.' Not poetic in the slightest but it entered the public vocabulary because it touched a nerve. There was truth behind the writing.

There is no truth behind 'Color like no other'.

Anyway. That's it for me. Nursie is going to help me to the bathroom - and then I'll have a nice nap.

Anonymous said...

Definitely similarities between the two.

Both seek to cram the maximum amount of meaning into, usually, the shortest space. And both have to be engaging on some level lest they become totally irrelevant. Further, provided you know why, breaking the convention rules of syntax, grammar and sometimes spelling comes with the territory.

I studied poetry for many years and not with the intention of working in advertising. Those years have helped me in my now chosen profession as a writer more than any other.

Anonymous said...

balls was great. but you brits can work yourself into a froth over anything. and it descends into slavish adoration a bit too soon in the UK.

of course writing ads is like like writing poetry. the best ads are always poetic. balls was poetic.

Carl said...

Different strokes for different folks

]-[appy Thought said...

When I was a kid I saw that Nationwide "Dunromin" ad. I had no idea what it was all about but I loved the animation and the song even though it was totally nonsensical. I was thinking about it for some reason the other day and suddenly got it. It is now my favorite ad ever and had a great, if now slightly archaic poetry to it.

Can't remember the strapline though.

KMRIA said...

Thanks for signposting the programme which was engaging, even if it was a bit alarming to hear one of the contributors twice referring to 'pneumonics'. Hadn't realised that pneumonia was once again on the rise.

PS
Agree with Boardwalk Dollinge that a horse is very like a coconut, especially on the radio.

Anonymous said...

a horse is a bit like a coconut is the best comment ever on this blog. bordering on genius wit

Anonymous said...

Are you suggesting that the kidults of tomorrow will be some what different to those who have gone before? To my knowledge the human race doesn't tend to 'develop' that quickly. I could be wrong but I will hazard a guess and say that slogans and jingles will be as valid as they are now. Humans in the immediate future will respond to messages in the same way as they pretty much always have. It's just the media channels that have expanded.

Anonymous said...

No one has mentioned the power of music in the jingle v image debate.

Clearly it's more powerful than words and images alone.

I kissed a girl and I liked it....

Sell! Sell! said...

A strong visual idea is powerful and can have impact, but a line/slogan will always be more valuable and stick more, if it based on a truth or a strong idea.

As even George Lois (a great art director with a talent for creating amazing visuals) said, it has to start with the words.

I think part of the reason why there are less strong slogan/jingle based ideas out there now is that a while back good creative people rebelled against that way of doing things because it was the norm (always good to question the norms).

But we now have a less-strong generation of creatives, who are less daring and would more likely conform to a established set of rules about what is 'coool'.

Strong and catchy slogans and jingles are seen as a bit 'uncooool' by these silly-jeans wearing ad-drones, so they don't do them.

Anonymous said...

Copywriters comparing themselves to poets sounds a little like wishful thinking.

I'm reminded of the unfortunate incident when Tony Kaye and Tom & Walt protested outside the Tate because their commercial wasn't exhibited there.

Mark McGuinness said...

W.H. Auden defined poetry as 'memorable speech' so maybe he would have agreed.