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Poets and creative advertising agencies

Poets and creative advertising agencies

February 9, 2024

Mercedes have done it again. In their new advert they’ve used a poem by deceased poet Karin Boye, prompting The Swedish Academy (the body responsible for awarding the Nobel prizes) to threaten to court action. The advert in question ‘On The Move’ ends with: “Move on, move on! The new day is dawning. Endless is our great adventure.” Karin Boye (1900-1940)

Why the uproar?

In January 2012, Mercedes apologised for using an image of Che Guevara during a presentation in which they showed the infamous picture taken by Alberto Korda with the Mercedes emblem on his beret. At the time, the uproar was over the glorification of the leader who took action against a capitalist system. The irony of such an image speaks for itself. An irony reflected in the use of a poem written by Boye, a staunch advocate of socialism.

Exploiting Boye’s poem in this insensitive and thoroughly commercialised way is grave robbery.

Stated the Swedish Academy Permanent Secretary Peter Englund


Words can be a very powerful way of evoking an emotional response, explaining why some advertising companies incorporate poetry into their campaigns. Waitrose used Keat’s Autumn; VW Dylan Thomas and Charles Bukowski’s “So you want to be a writer” was used for Dewar’s White Label.

Live True

These are the GREATs. Wordsmiths who don’t just put words onto paper, they sculpt them. Try this one:


Are creative advertising agencies commercialising something that has no place in the commercial world?

We spoke to Dr Jeremy Noel-Tod from UEA, who recently Tweeted Tyrrells crisps over their mis-use of a photograph of the poet RS Thomas during their “fleeting look of contempt” campaign.

I think poetry has a place everywhere. There are a lot of similarities between the techniques of lyric poetry and advertising, so it’s not surprising poetry should turn up in advertising sometimes, and I suspect there are quite a few disappointed poets in the industry. I don’t think that using classic poetry in adverts always works, though, because it is by nature more subtle and less coercive than a short commercial. The only product poetry is selling is itself. So some of these uses are really more abuses. As John Keats said, ‘We hate poetry that has a palpable design upon us—and if we do not agree, seems to put its hand into its breeches pocket.

Where else can agencies go?

So, if agencies can’t use classic poets, where do they turn? Do they write the poems themselves? Lotto evidently thought it would be a good idea to try: Across the nation, there’s great elation, there’s more lives changing every day. From jackpot living, to local giving singing ooh whacka-doo what a day.

This is the karaoke version – to save a little of our self respect. You'll need to hop over to YouTube to view this one.

Unfortunately, rhyming attempts like this seem to have encouraged other companies to try their hand. Cathedral City’s “Slice of Britain” (Ripon rhymes with Britain?), McCain’s “Chips for Tea” ( (you can now buy that maroon ‘chips’ jumper in Primark) and McDonald’s’ reworking of Rolf Harris’ song ‘Court Of King Caratacus’ in the “Mcdonald’s Favourites” adverts.

Rhyme makes a very direct appeal to our emotions, however crudely done. The linguist Roman Jakobson pointed out that President Eisenhower’s election campaign slogan, ‘I like Ike’, was popular with American voters because it created an impression that was simple, comforting and complete. The likeness between the three sounds suggest the absolute sympathy between ‘I’ and ‘Ike’. Most importantly for advertisers, snappy rhymes like this are also extremely memorable: verbal ‘ear-worms’.

Dr. Noel-Tod.

Can anyone write poetry?

Good poetry comes from the soul, be it tortured or otherwise. Thomas as an alocoholic; Keats an Opium addict and Bukowski’s life ( makes interesting reading too.

Poets are poets 24 hours a day – their lifestyle is their ‘career’. A good poem doesn’t come from an idea it comes from a state of mind.

The solution

Hire in a poet. Nick Toczek’s poem for the Prudential advert is a great example: Our kids, who’ve grown and flown the nest, Now only phone us to request, More cash on loan, their tone depressed .

McCain have also redeemed themselves by commissioning the poet Pam Ayre’s to give life to their latest ads.

McCain Jackets

I think McCain have been extremely canny to employ Pam Ayres. She is one of the most popular living writers in the poetry section of any British bookshop. I don’t think you can entirely separate the appeal of her writing from her West Country accent either, which is reassuringly rural and good-humoured — a perfect match for their flying potato animation. Her homely, old-fashioned persona also helps to disguise the fact that, once upon a time, the idea of paying extra for a pre-cooked jacket potato would have horrified the frugal British housewife. She is very good at the kind of light-hearted verse you often find in the ‘Poetry Corner’ of local newspapers, where a little story about an everyday subject quickly becomes a comic quest for the next rhyme. The honourable tradition of English doggerel is alive and well in such writing — though perhaps not especially honourably in this advert.

Dr. Noel-Tod

So whether using poetry in advertising is artistic blasphemy or just good commercial sense, it’s undeniably a tactic that will continue to be employed worldwide. But for the poets and purists among you, let us end with the sentiment of Robert Graves- one of England’s finest love poets. “There’s no money in poetry, but then there’s no poetry in money, either.”