Tip Tuesday: For Effective Short-Form Ad Copy, Think Like a Poet

As a child, I grew up reading, loving and eventually writing poetry. I discovered an old (read: from the 1970s) anthology of poetry that my father had up in our attic, and I quickly read it cover to cover multiple times. I became a fan of Yeats, Keats, Plath–let’s just say the list is endless.

I still write poetry to this day, though I’ve yet to publish a chapbook, which is a goal of mine. I’m also a copywriter. Though maybe the whole “working in advertising to pay the bills” thing doesn’t seem to quite mesh with the whole “go grave robbing with me in a thunderstorm” aspect of poetry (OK, that’s just the Romantic poets who did that), I’ve found that my education in poetry has prepared me well for being a copywriter. Here’s why.

The poets I personally love really grab your attention right away, play with it a bit, then reward you at the end with a gorgeous turn of phrase that gets you right in the gut.

Sound familiar? That’s because it’s eerily similar to how short form copy works, which is what I’ve been trained in as a copywriter. I learned about the greats, like David Ogilvy, and how quality advertising really is effective when it’s short, snappy and to-the-point. I think of how one of my favorite poems, “An Irish Airman Foresees His Death” by William Butler Yeats works to pull the reader in and then reward them at the end.

The opening lines of the poem are “I know that I shall meet my fate/Somewhere among the clouds above,” and the poem ends with “The years to come seemed waste of breath/A waste of breath the years behind/In balance with this life, this death.” The poem comes full circle to satisfy the reader, much like classic advertising does. While Yeats’ poem is kind of depressing as compared to say, a billboard on the interstate, it still employs that whole “bait and reward” tactic.

I like to use this idea in short form because it works. People, as consumers, want short and sweet, not long and drawn-out. Putting what you want to get across in a shorter format means that it’s more likely people will read it.

This doesn’t have to be a thing of the past, though, only confined to traditional means of advertising, like full-page spreads or radio ads. Think about Facebook and Twitter. These are both a great short form medium that people look at multiple times a day, making your poem-turned-advertising into a real work of art.

In the end, advertising is like poetry. You want your ad to be quick and to hit where it matters most.

Louisa has a B.A. in Theater from Temple University, along with a concentration in English. She enjoys writing poetry, musicals, cats (but not the musical “Cats,”) and eating her favorite food, mashed potatoes. Her goal is to be the best copywriter she can be and to publish a chapbook of her poems sometime in the next century.

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