Literature & Advertising

maxresdefaultKatie Houston

Of all of the motivational speeches we have listened to over the years, of all of the sage advice from our elders – parents, teachers, over-enthusiastic strangers – we are always told  that we should pursue whatever it is that we love, whatever we have a passion for, whatever we are driven by (and various other synonyms). As often as we have heard this advice, we have probably passed it on to others: “university is too long and too hard to be studying something you don’t enjoy,” something from my own repertoire. The conversation seems decidedly one-sided: romantic ideals takes precedence over economic practicalities. And it continues…

How many times have we heard it said that if we want to write, we should never do it for the fame, the recognition or, dare I say it, the money? How dare you?! Money isn’t discussed when it comes to art! But the matter of the fact is, actually, it should. Writing after all is a trade, a labour, even if a labour of a different kind. Do we not think that artists need to earn money off their previous works to fund future ones? Have we forgotten that the plays and books and poems we read in our seminars have come from, for the most part, a cultural success, and thus from money? When we enter those seminar rooms, have we forgotten that we have actually bought these plays and books and poems with our own money? Yet there still seems to be a taboo surrounding the commercial and literary, especially when it comes to highbrow, canonical literature.

So what happens when this taboo is pushed even further? What happens when literature itself becomes the advertisement?

In the past few months, there seems to have been a surge in television adverts using literature as a way to promote their products. Whether that comes in the form of Plusnet’s pastiche of Rudyard Kipling’s ‘If’, or the simple rhymes of Made in the Royal Navy’ recruitment ads, or building society Nationwide’s nationwide ‘Voices’ campaign in which both ‘ordinary’ people and recognised poets write and perform poetry. Of the 71 video-strong playlist (as of 13th October, 2017), a particular favourite of mine is Matt Harvey’s poem I Tell My Sonswhich touches upon ‘70s nostalgia and the rise of modern technologies, ending on an endearing moment of the father and son relationship.

And yet, in this particular advert, Harvey’s words do not touch upon the product being sold; in this case, the Nationwide banking app that is seemingly shoehorned in on the end slate of the video. What is it, then, about using poetry to promote a product without using poetry to promote the product that Nationwide’s marketing team thought was so pertinent? What is it about the ‘voices’ in these adverts? Is there a sense of authenticity about them, or perhaps it is the paired-back, storytelling aspect that make them feel like watchable content than mere ads? Are these companies trying to appeal to something within us that stirs upon hearing meter and rhyme? I wonder what has been found by the market research teams that pushed them in this particular literary direction?

It is fair to say that these types of adverts are not everyone’s cup of tea (see Vice article here). Perhaps these corny, cliched, sometimes clumsily written poems provide sufficient evidence that literature and advertising should not mix. Perhaps they are a way of bringing literature to the masses, to those who otherwise would not pay attention to it – especially poetry, which is increasingly moving further and further away from the public eye and public readership. Surely as literature lovers with the passion and the drive we possess for our chosen art form, would we not want the world to see what literature can do and how it can make us feel? Or are these two different aspects of our lives that we do not want melded together?

Whether the commodification of art should be a sin or should be celebrated, I don’t think it is going anywhere too soon.


Further reading:

Narrative storylines in Christmas tv adverts and their filmic nature:

Literary ads in print culture and its tradition:

Categories: Literature

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