Most of the time, businesses turn to copywriters when they need words. But what if it’s poetry you’re looking for?
Incredibble writer, Mike Burton, explores what copy and poetry have in common, where they differ and the many ways brands can benefit from a bit of verse.
They weren’t booing me because I was the only white person in the room. It was because I didn’t look the part; skinny jeans, a student beard, big jam jar glasses...
This was a hip hop club. This was Brixton. This was 2012. What was I doing?
My mate pushed me towards the stage as the sea of faces stared at me, still booing. Was I really about to rap?
Yes. I was.
I stood on stage. Someone handed me a microphone. The DJ spun a beat and off I went.
Within 30 seconds everyone was cheering. I was Eminem. It was exhilarating.
When I left the stage, another rapper fist-bumped me and told me I was dope. I spent the rest of the night drinking with everyone, thrilled by my own nerve.
Almost a decade has passed since my mini “8 Mile” moment. My rapping days are over. Now, I write copy for businesses, helping them sell their products, services and ideas.
But it’s not uncommon for Incredibble clients to ask for something poetic: ‘a bit more elevated’, ‘kind of like a poem’ ...or my recent favourite, ‘a little more like Stormzy.’
Have you thought about using poetry in your marketing? We’ve all seen and heard TV and radio ads use poetry. How can it help you? When should you use poetry in place of copy? To paraphrase Lionel, is it poetry you’re looking for?
Hello, Chief Poetry Officer
Incredibble is all about connecting you to proven creatives who can help solve your business problems. And although we can turn a neat phrase and quote a line or two from Milk and Honey, we’re no poets.
To really understand how organisations can benefit from poetry, we need an expert opinion.
Cue Lisa O’ Hare.
Lisa, aka The Chief Poetry Officer, is a tax adviser-turned-poet from Manchester. In 2019, after more than 20 years in corporate tax, she took a career break to explore her creative side.
The first thing she did was write, produce and star in her own one-woman show at the Greater Manchester Fringe. A bold first move.
While preparing for the show, she crossed paths with some (as she puts it) ‘proper’ writers who suggested she get some performance practice on Manchester’s thriving spoken word scene.
That’s where she found her poetic voice, performance confidence and the courage to share her work, submitting her poetry to anthologies, zines and podcasts.
Her debut collection of poetry, ‘Lockdown Life, A Rollercoaster of Emotions’, was published earlier this year. Poems from the collection have featured on many different platforms, including the BBC.
She is now a ‘proper’ writer herself.
With such a unique background, who better qualified to speak on what poetry can deliver for businesses?
Prose vs poetry: what’s the difference? And when should you use which?
Romantic poet Samuel Taylor Coleridge described poetry as, “The best words in the best order”. Could the same not be said of great copy?
Lisa agreed the two have a fair bit in common, especially in the working process.
In poetry, not a word is wasted. Nor in copy. Both tend to be shaped by the edit more than the first draft. And both are surgically precise.
“Poetry permits you to heighten your language to a more dramatic, more passionate form,” she explained. “It’s full of emotion.”
Copywriting tends to be focused outwards towards the reader while poetry is traditionally about the poet expressing themselves. But it’s this public expression of personal experience that galvanises readers to brands in powerful ways.
Poetry is emotional absynthe.
Lisa was recently commissioned to write and record a poem for Baba+Boo, the planet friendly baby boutique.
You Gave Us Hope is a touching tribute to parents who faced the challenges of looking after children through lockdown. Everyone who ordered from Baba+Boo received a postcard with their order with Lisa’s poem transcribed on it.
“The response was overwhelming,” Lisa told me. “Parents wrote to the company’s Facebook page saying how much it moved them. Mums said it made them cry, which then made me cry! Some said they were going to keep the poem in their child’s memory box, so they can look back when they’re older and see what a strange time it was.”
Many organisations spend thousands — if not millions — every year trying to forge this kind of emotional connection with their customers. Baba+Boo did it with a talented poet.
What can poetry do for you?
“Poetry isn’t for everyone. But for some, it will be hugely beneficial. And it can be used in more ways than you might think,” Lisa explained.
Pen your values in a more poetic way
Whether you want full-on verse structure with rhymes and all, or simply some highly potent, poetic prose to express your brand’s identity.
Bring mundane topics to life
There’s broad consensus that some topics are duller than others. Insurance, tax and electricity providers are a few that come to mind.
As a former tax adviser, Lisa’s no stranger to a topic most people find less than fascinating. I mean, it’s not Alton Towers is it?
“Poetry can pump some personality into those topics and grab people’s attention. Plus, it’s memorable and will stick in people’s minds.”
Make a serious topic playful
When most of us think about poetry we are reminded of school, where we’d study the oh-so-serious poetry of the past.
However, contrary to the impression seared into your brain by high school English lessons, poetry can be an extremely light medium. Billy Collins, Philip Larkin and Dorothy Parker are three poets who could be surprisingly playful with serious subject matter.
Want to talk about something serious without being serious? Poetry might be the tool for the job.
Reposition your brand to appeal to a new audience
O2’s recent advert ‘Breathe It All In’ features George the Poet, the London-born spoken word performer of Ugandan heritage.
George’s poem about the miracle of life and the beauty of human connection elevates O2 from being simply a phone company and repositions it as enabling customers to experience the miracle of life fully. There is no mention of data bundles at all in the ad.
Nationwide, on the other hand, used poetry to re-enforce their position. Their recent ad featuring Birmingham’s youngest poet laureate, Stephen Morrison-Burke, tells the story of how the building society was formed in 1775. The ad’s strapline ‘Everyday people, helping everyday people’ hammers home the message that their mission hasn’t changed all these years later.
Could poetry help you reposition your brand to attract a new audience?
Want to join the 8 Mile club?
You don’t need to rap on stage to make the poetry grade for your brand. There are amateur and professional poets, and plenty of copywriters who write poetry on the side, who can help you explore this evocative medium.
The briefing process for poetry can be more organic than usual. Yes, even more organic than usual! Because, in our experience, it’s hard to know what you’re looking for before you’ve seen or heard it.
Remain transparent about where you are in your briefing process, frequently update your freelance team, research, ask questions and harness the knowledge of those around you to find your way through. Be willing to take a few risks and embrace the creative process.
As ever, Incredibble is here to guide you towards lyrical success.
Discover more about Lisa O’ Hare at https://lisaoharewriter.com/ or connect with her on instagram @chiefpoetryofficer