We’ve partnered with Leeds Arts University to give a platform to the brightest young voices in advertising today. Here Charlotte Cunningham, BA (Hons) Creative Advertising, explores the complicated relationship between poetry and advertising.

Poetry has been used in advertising as a mechanism to cut through the noise and speak to a younger audience. From interviewing current rappers, poets and unpicking theories it is apparent that poetry’s essence is consistently related to themes of truth, humanness and self-expression.

There is a common perception that advertising’s “name carries connotations of half-truths, deception and outright fraud”, begging the question: should poetry, an artform with such a prevalent link to “humanness” be used in the callous world of capitalism?

The element of truth appears to be the most dominant of all themes, this can be explained through a 2018 poetry campaign for a well-known financial company. The campaign exhibits both humanness and self-expression, but due to lack of trust we have for the brand, it colours the whole campaign as deceptive. This distrust can be explained by our inherent scepticism of banks, due to recent crashes and allegations of dishonesty. In other words, if poetry relies on truth, then there must be trust in the brand as they are so deeply connected.

What is notable in successful poetry campaigns is that they can offer positive effects such as bringing poetry, historically an artform clasped tight in the hands of the privileged into the ears of the mainstream. It is important to understand why poetry is current in advertising.

One reason may be due to “the poetry of hip-hop culture” 2 and how the popularity of rap has allowed poetry to percolate its way into the lives of many. Like it or not, poetry is in the ears of young people, kids who might hate poetry in English classes are absorbing it constantly, but just in a different from. It’s also notable that there is a correlation between a divided society and the rise of poetry/rap. Abi Pearl (Head of Advertising at Giffgaff) drew attention to the surge of poetry ads in 2018, which was the year Donald Trump got into power and we voted to leave the EU. She expressed how a poem that politely attacks big corporations seemed appropriate considering the political backdrop at the time.

The 2020 Brit awards saw how poetry is one of the most direct ways to address politics, Dave used his space to talk about racism in the UK and point out social inequalities such as justice for Grenfell and those murdered in the London Bridge terrorist attacks.

Undeniably, poetry is a powerful form of communication, an artform that must be respected, but also modernised. Advertising has the capacity to damage poetry, but it also has the potential to inspire and support the artform and artists. Truth must be prominent in the campaign, from the workings out of the big idea to the final execution, it must feel purposeful and used as the most natural and effective approach to tell the story of the campaign.

Charlotte then used this essay as a springboard for a creative response to brief

The TV ad can be found here: