My first job working as a writer in the corporate world was a painful process. I wrote e-newsletters for a car marketing company, and the car dealership owners would review and make suggestions to my copy. They favoured heavy-handed clichés similar to the car ads they said they were trying to get away from. In a few short months the role made me feel that my communications degree was useless.
I learned at university that cliches are the enemy of writing. Writing is ideally storytelling, spinning something entirely new into existence. You don’t want to just repeat the same old stories in the same old way. I had learned that writers aspire to a unique ‘voice’ – their own rhythm and style that runs through their work. But in this role I was asked to churn out high-school level copy while barely thinking. and the executives and dealership owners loved it!
I quit shortly afterwards in boredom and frustration and let go of the idea of writing for a living. I eventually became a marketer – ironically, content strategy and content writing have been core parts of of most of my roles over the past seven years. And sometimes, yes, I have found myself falling back on cliches. The way I was taught marketing, a campaign doesn’t strive for ‘newness’ in the same way that writing does. If ‘buy now’ in big red letters works, by all means use it again.
But perhaps we marketers can learn something from the art of poetry, which I’ve recently taken up again.
It’s true that a successful marketing campaign doesn’t always rely on a new concept. But all too often we see the same ideas reiterated, cliches turned out, and campaigns indistinguishable from several others in the market. Meanwhile in my poetic work I edit, re-edit, and then edit some more to vigilantly remove cliches and try to say something different.
The reason for the newness in poetry is because you want to create something people will never forget. You want one phrase like ‘purple pregnant sky’ to linger for days. There’s an emotional resonance and meaning in poetry – something that speaks to people and makes them feel that whoever wrote those words understands something special in them.
And really, doesn’t that sound like great marketing?