Poetry saturates our lives, from the mnemonics we use to help us remember important information to the lyrics in our favorite song. From the moment we begin to communicate, we’re drawn towards rhyme and rhythm.
B2C marketers have been tapping into the power of poetry for years, which had us wondering: Is it worth it to add poetry to B2B marketing?
“Poetry is language at its most distilled and most powerful.” – Rita Dove
In a crowded space where marketers are always on the hunt for something to make their message stand out above others, it’s possible that using poetry might be an under-utilized way to be heard.
The Track Record
Poetry has a long pedigree in the advertising world. Poetic language and rhyme are part of the very fabric of B2C. Chances are you still remember a TV jingle or two, even though it’s been years since you last heard them. Poems (and rhymes in particular) are notoriously sticky things: like a catchy tune, they have the power to carve out a space for themselves in our long-term memory.
However, focusing entirely on that practical angle ignores another key part of poetry: the aim to delight and captivate. One brand that secured its place in history by understanding poetry’s power to entertain was Burma-Shave.
Alan Odell, the son of the company’s owner, became inspired while driving down long, unforgiving stretches of American highways. He thought: What if the brand could provide some pleasure to drivers while also getting the company’s name out there? He spread the words of simple poems out over a sequence of six signs, spaced 100 feet apart. The divided quatrains made the verses far easier to read while driving and created a sense of anticipation that broke up the tedium of the trip.
“We’ve made grandpa
Look so youthful
His pension board
The signs were hugely popular and heralded decades of prosperity for the company. There were even annual contests for the public to create their own rhymes, with thousands of submissions. People still remember the poems fondly, more than 60 years after the signs (and the brand) vanished.
Are Brand Rhymes Real Poetry?
Of course, many would argue that catchy rhymes aren’t “real” poetry. In recent years, however, there has been a growing trend of using more artistic and “serious” poetry for advertising.
Several major B2C brands have experimented with spoken word poetry for their TV spots. Some brands, like Levi’s, may pick a poem that already exists, while others commission brand new pieces, like Coca-Cola did with ‘The Wonder of Us’.
The modern campaign is often intentionally meant to be disruptive. The intent is to show that the brand wants to engage with the world sincerely and, as a result, wants to give us more than just a hard sell. At the same time, they’re trying to do exactly what the Burma-Shave signs were attempting: to delight us and cut through the monotony so that we genuinely engage. Only this time, it’s endless ads, rather than endless highways.
There’s a wealth of scientific evidence to suggest that poetry has a stronghold over us at a neurological level, as well.
Several studies suggest that we are hard-wired to notice and favor sentences that use poetic form. Some academics also think that we’re more likely to believe a rhyming statement to be true. The believability is thanks to the mental symmetry and associations with valuable childhood lessons such as ‘leaves of three, let it be’ (AKA how to identify poison ivy).
There’s evidence that poetry can activate our reward circuits, too. A study from 2017 found that reciting poetry can cause the same sharp emotional spikes and physical reactions (such as goosebumps or even tears) as music.
Another study, published in 2015, suggests that the act of having to unpack a poem’s meaning line by line and possibly reappraise at the end can give us the same thrilling ‘aha moment’ as we get from solving a puzzle. It gives us a sense of triumph and validation when we work out what the poet is trying to say.
So, Poetry for B2B Marketing?
Should we harness this compelling science for our B2B marketing campaigns?
In 2015, two writers for the B2B agency Radix debated this very question. George Reith argued that poetry’s complexity made it unsuitable for marketing, saying: “Once you know what you want your prospect to do, it’s inadvisable to stay their hand from the ‘Buy Now’ button [or other vital CTA] by asking them to read an epic poem, no matter how epic or poetic.” So, why keep your reader away from the desired action by distracting them with mental gymnastics?
Reith’s colleague, Kieran Haynes, disagreed. Haynes pointed out that distilling ideas and feelings into as few words as possible is a goal that poetry and copywriting have in common. Haynes said: “This essentially poetic technique of getting words to punch above—or below, or even around—their weight is exactly what effective email subject lines, corporate tweets, or brand taglines must do.”
Compelling short-form copy, like poetry, often carries a wealth of associations and ideas that occur to us at an abstract but powerful level that we then unpack on the hunt for the ‘ah, I see what you did there’ moment.
Even though they conflict, both arguments from the Radix agency get to the heart of the matter: poetry is about the individual reader. Often with B2B, there’s a temptation to avoid getting too personal. B2B marketers may worry that poetry focuses too much on particular desires rather than proving what your business can do for theirs. Therefore, it’s easy to overlook the fact that B2B also involves an individual reader at the first point of contact.
Standing out, however, is still one of the biggest challenges in B2B marketing. How do we grab already divided attention? Distinctive poetry might catch that initial reader’s eye during a morning of skimming through corporate content that all looks the same. The change in format could draw them into thinking differently about their business’s pain points and your business’s ability to address them, too.
Of course, they could then realize that no amount of rhythm and pretty language is going to make space for your services in their budget. Alternatively, adding poetry to B2B marketing campaigns runs the risk of your target audience thinking of your ad as a cheap gimmick.
The tradeoff is that at least you will have achieved a positive bit of brand awareness. And who knows, your poem might actually inspire them to fight for space in that budget for you later on.
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Adding Poetry to B2B Marketing: A Risk Worth Taking?
Poetry has a very mixed-up reputation, managing to sometimes be either too frivolous or too highbrow. It can be polarizing, confusing, and a matter of personal taste – all things which B2B marketers (who have to focus on winning over the individual AND the committee) understandably want to avoid.
But then again, what if taking a risk and something polarizing is precisely what’s required to stand out from all the other brands taking the same cautious line?
So, should you try a poem for your next B2B email blast or social media campaign? That’s a resounding maybe. It might create a whole new sales channel or it might fall flat. Like any disruptive marketing technique, it’s a risk. Then again, not many other disruptive marketing techniques have all that science (not to mention thousands of years of history and literature) on their side.
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