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June 1st, 2012

What can poetry teach us about advertising?



Advertising and Poetry: Kissing Cousins, thrice removed.

By Brokaw Senior Copywriter Mark McKenzie

Every day, National Public Radio invites Garrison Keillor (host of A Prairie Home Companion and goodwill ambassador of Lake Wobegon) onto the airwaves to read five minutes of poetry.

And let’s be honest: in our tricked-out, fast-paced, digi-world, people aren’t exactly clamoring to hear more of the idiosyncratic vocabulary of Emily Dickinson (so idiosyncratic!) or the cockeyed humor of Ron Padgett (though maybe they should be).

So, how do you make five minutes of sometimes-difficult prose so engaging? Well, interestingly enough, it’s strikingly similar to how you create engaging advertising. You have to give your audience a reason to listen, read, watch, or click. You have to rise above the blah, blah. Right, Mr. Keillor?

“The goodness of a poem is severely tested by reading it on the radio. The radio audience is not the devout sisterhood you find at poetry readings—leaning forward, lips pursed, hanky in hand; it’s more like a high school cafeteria. People listen to poems while they’re frying eggs and sausage and reading the paper and reasoning with their offspring…But sometimes a poem cuts through the static and delivers some good thing. It is of use; it gives value. James Wright’s “A Blessing” was heard by a woman on her Walkman while hustling down a concourse at the Dallas/Fort Worth airport, and she stopped to listen to it, though a moment before, she had been rushing to catch a plane—and to be interrupted mid-stampede by a beautiful thing is a blessing indeed.”

(Excerpted from the Introduction to “Good Poems”; also worth clamoring over.)

So, before you release your shiny, new ad into the world, it might be wise to ask, “What would Charles Bukowski do?” Or Gary Larson.