On Super Bowl Sunday, Coca-Cola debuted a new spot in the fourth quarter featuring an inclusive message in the form of an original poem for the brand by poet and Wieden + Kennedy copywriter Becca Wadlinger. Earlier this month, Microsoft rolled out a 60-second ad featuring Academy Award winner Common reciting a poem about the power and possibility of artificial intelligence. In August, A+E Networks unveiled a new brand campaign using an interactive film about storytelling and America with a poem by National Poetry Slam champion IN-Q. Those are just a few of the brands that have employed a burgeoning creative trend: using poetry to make a campaign stand out and give people a more personal connection to a brand.
“We are now seeing poetry used in commercial storytelling because viewers are wise to conventional advertising and are bombarded by it, so they have developed ways to filter it out,” said David Blackburn, an editor at postproduction house PS260. “Poetry is more entertaining than most ad copy, and viewers are inclined to respond to a lifestyle or feeling rather than a hard sell. They are also more open to subscribe to that brand when responding to the emotional and human connection brought about by a poem.”
Making that human connection was certainly what Droga5 was aiming for with its recent foray into poetic storytelling for Under Armour. The “Unlike Any” campaign, which was released this past July, utilized poetry to tell the stories of athletes like Zoe Zhang and Natasha Hastings and ballet dancer Misty Copeland. During the Rio Olympics, the athletes’ accomplishments were often compared to their male counterparts, according to Adrienne Lofton, svp of global brand management for Under Armour, who previously explained that the “Unlike Any” campaign was a way to “change the conversation” and make sure they’re referred to as athletes—not female athletes, just athletes.
Alexander Nowak, executive creative director at Droga5, believes poetry has become more approachable for young people, which allowed the brand to be more creative in its endeavor and write poems about the athletes’ lives.
As for A+E Networks, the company wanted to make sure its brand identity was synonymous with a great yarn. “A big part of what makes great storytelling is about being human, being authentic,” said Tim Nolan, creative director at A+E Networks, who explained that quest for authenticity led the company to deploy poetry for its brand campaign.
Poetry also changed the creative process for A+E Networks. The company hired poet IN-Q for the job with a one-line brief asking him what it would mean to take a closer look at the fabric of America.
“We gave no guidance into the words he selected,” said Chris Gargani, vp of global marketing production at A+E Networks. “He was only going to write a poem for us if it was something he could perform outside of this commercial. … For us, that was a completely different experience. We usually have a multiple-page brief, we go through multiple rounds of script revisions, we’re changing words, changing inflections and really he just owned that part of it 100 percent.”
For Wadlinger, there was also a creative shift. Instead of writing in her own voice, she let Coca-Cola’s “optimistic” brand voice “lead the tone of the poem.”
“Including poetry can help a brand break through the clutter of ad-centric messaging,” explained Anthony Cospito, head of strategy at digital shop Moving Image and Content. “A current out-of-home campaign by Policygenius running in New York City subways, for example, features poetry and makes fun of itself for not being Longfellow, but rather for being an expert in insurance. Given the downtime while commuting, it’s a welcome read—even for jaded New Yorkers. You get the message without feeling like you’re being sold to.”
That Policygenius campaign, which was created by an in-house team, is meant to emulate the MTA’s Poetry in Motion effort, according to Policygenius creative director John Downing, who explained, “Getting insurance has traditionally been a really crummy experience. It was important to us to be as real as possible in how we speak to that with an honest and self-awareness campaign.”
Added Downing: “We’re a bunch of insurance nerds. Comparing insurance online is easy. Writing poetry is really hard. “