Poetry and the Private Sector

My good friend Bobby Crawford recently had his poem “Subaru Lover” go viral. His poem has found it’s way onto a lot of different blogs and news sites and has over 15,000 views. A comment on Jezebel, one of the sites that picked up the poem, suggested Bobby should pitch Subaru the idea of using his piece in one of their advertisements. I don’t think it’s a bad idea.

While Subaru, which traditionally has a very family oriented company identity, might not make use of the more sexual portions of Bobby’s poem, the overall message about the courage it takes to find your own identity would certainly appeal to their brand. And at the very least they could include Bobby’s mannerisms and energetic performance into sections of a stylized montage, similar to Honda’s #LoveToday campaign.

There’s recently been a trend of companies using poetry in their marketing campaigns:

There’s the iPad Air commercial which quotes from Whitman’s “O Me! O Life!” and begins with a narrator discussing the importance of poetry.

Levi’s go forth campaign includes, Whitman’s “O Pioneers!”, Whitman’s “America”, and Bukowski’s “The Laughing Heart

And while it’s more personal essay than poem, North Face recently ran an ad using a famous quote from John Muir’s “My First Summer in the Sierra.”

Though admittedly the poets these ads use, Whitman and Bukowski, are two of America’s most recognizable poets that doesn’t mean there isn’t a space for contemporary poets to get their pieces into advertising. In the same way many indie bands get their funding and break out success from having their music played on advertisements, so too could poets with their writing.

Poetry has started returning to the popular conscious, largely through the growth of the Slam Poetry scene, so it makes sense that advertisers are beginning to use pieces of writing in their commercials. And poets should reap the benefits of these advertisements. While the argument of “selling out” weighs on most artists minds, there’s nothing ignoble or degrading about making a living off of what you love doing. Business is the art of America and marketing is a persuasive art just like poetry, instead of selling a product though poets peddle emotion. Furthermore, it’s almost impossible for a contemporary American poet to avoid product placement when writing in a culture so inundated with consumerism. For example: it’s more vivid and telling for a speaker or character in a piece to be drinking a Sprite than a soda. When poets use specific products in their work they’re establishing a relationship, whether intentional or not, between themselves and the company that manufactures that item; a relationship that could be reciprocated and financially beneficial for both parties.

Another intersection of poetry and business is patronage. With everyone competing for residency spots and grant funds it makes sense to start looking elsewhere for money and support for a project, for example applying for the Amtrak Residency instead of a travel grant. A big argument against this is the corporate bias, having to compile work that the company can use at their discretion and that doesn’t tarnish their reputation. I agree that any amount of censorship or pre-determined agendas that go into a work seriously undermines its message and integrity, but I don’t think this bias is exclusive to the funding a poet can receive from industry. As a poet today, you’re either going to have to appeal to an institution’s (university, think-tank or otherwise) bias or the current government’s agenda to receive a grant so no matter what route a poet takes there will always be someone or some board of people, to appease. Dylan said it best, “you’re gonna have to serve somebody”.

Admittedly, not everyone is interested in having their work broadcast to people. Some poets write for personal reasons and are content with the private sense of accomplishment they find in their work. But for those who are invested in being heard and/or read, advertisements present the widest possible distribution for work. Not only does this have the potential to help a poet’s career, but perhaps it’s a way for poetry to truly impact culture as a whole. The biggest problem with advertising today is its hedonism and the culture of greed and mass consumption it promotes. But with more and more poetry finding its way into ads maybe the messages these works have will start not only changing the minds of people watching, but the people creating, writing, and filming the ads as well.


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