Ode on a Copywriter: The highs and lows of rhymes, poetry and jingles in advertising

Andrew Boulton is a copywriter with a decade of scribbling experience at places like Egg the online bank, some top agencies in the Midlands and once for a man who carved dolphins out of cheese.

He was nominated for the Professional Publishers Association Award for Business Media Columnist of the Year despite having little or no grasp of the semi colon. He has decent hair but a disappointing beard. You can follow him on Twitter @Boultini.

‘Um Bongo, Um Bongo they drink in the Congo…’

Despite the propaganda, very few people in the Congo actually drink Um Bongo. Do not believe the lies.

Fear not dear reader, you have not been transported back to 1985, an age where another seven Star Wars films would have seemed like a wonderful idea.

The reason for the classic little ditty that opened this week’s blog is that we are going to ponder the role of rhymes, poems and jingles in modern advertising.

As a copywriter I personally love lyrical advertising. It allows me to pretend I am a proper writer and not, as my dear wife often tells me, a credit card salesman.

Along with dinosaurs and obscure Die Hard references, rhymes and poems are amongst my most regularly pitched (and, sadly, rejected) concepts.

I once spent the best part of two days desperately trying to form a line that would rhyme with ‘terms and conditions apply’ – my best attempt being ‘worms and magicians reply’ (which was not only a terrible rhyme but also factually inaccurate).

However, I am pleased to see examples where copywriters have been encouraged to unleash the poetry that is buried within their dark and miserable souls.

The McDonald’s ‘Just Passing By’ poetry ads were surprisingly charming for a corporation that most people think is a tiny bit evil.

Similarly the narration of the Cathedral City adverts has a captivating sense of poetry, aided considerably by a sublime delivery from Pete Postlethwaite.

Then of course, there is the use of classic poetry in advertising with Centre Parcs using a William Henry Davies verse, Waitrose narrating an ad with Keats’ ‘Ode To Autumn’ and Volkswagen choosing an extract from Dylan Thomas’ ‘Under Milk Wood’ read, beautifully, by Richard Burton.

All were incredibly effective, although I’m not sure what Dylan Thomas would have made of his poetry being used to flog cars, in the same way I’m not convinced that WH Auden would have been thrilled to know his poem helped inflict John Hannah upon us for the next 20 years.

Of course, poetry in advertising is very much a knife edge commitment. Well applied, like the examples above, it can be appealing and persuasive. Poorly executed it can make you cringe so intensely you very nearly implode.

On the other hand, jingles in marketing do not seem to be enjoying the same kind of success and profile they did in previous decades.

Growing up as a ‘less-chubby-than-I-am-now’ youth in the fine city of Nottingham, there were countless superb advertising jingles or songs. Back then it was vital to your status (and physical safety) in the playground to learn all the words to the latest popular tune. The penalty for failing to know Kia-Ora’s ‘I’ll be your crow’ song and dance was the Killer Peanut*.

* This where you pull on the victim’s tie so tightly that the knot shrinks down to the size of a peanut. More people are hospitalised each year because of the Killer Peanut than for shark, hippo and badger attacks combined. FACT.

Nowadays I struggle to think of a single advertising jingle that matches up to the standards set by Um Bongo, Kia-Ora, Kwik Fit (‘You can’t better than a Kwik Fit Fitter’) Club (‘if you like a lot of chocolate on your biscuit join our club’) and the like.

The ‘Go Compare’ tune is regrettably memorable, but that was clearly designed to be intentionally and actively annoying – hence the current series of ads in which Stuart Pearce and Ray Mears mercilessly bully Gio Compario.

I personally hope the jingle does recapture its glory days. Partly because I think it’s a playful medium of old-fashioned advertising that has more than earned its right to be a credible creative technique.

Mostly though, because I no longer wear a tie and should therefore be entirely safe from the Killer Peanut.

Now, if you’ll excuse me, I’m off to pick an apricot, a guava and a mango, stick it with the others and dance a dainty tango. That’s just what I like to do.


Andrew Boulton is a copywriter at the Together Agency. Nothing rhymes with Andrew, Boulton, copywriter or Together Agency.

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