Bad ad poetry? HIRE POETS.

Living in London, we’re surrounded by TFL’s abominable Travel Better London posters, with their godawful doggerel.

First, you spot one and sigh gently to yourself.

Then you notice another. And another. Ye gods, they’re all over the place, much like their scansion.

Then a chill runs down your spine, as you wonder if everyone else secretly thinks the poetry is good.

That’s when things get a little Mugatu.

God bless Crap Verse in Ads for speaking truth to advertising and salving the rage by archiving these examples of crimes against art. I believe CVIA’s flagging of these ads is one of the main forces behind TFL’s decision to hold a competition to improve the poetry on their posters.

Not that it helped a bit. The results were just as bad, if not worse than the originals. Sigh again.

“Why didn’t you enter?” I hear you ask, “if you loathe the winning poetry so much?”

Two reasons:

a) I’m a poet, certainly, but I’m also a copywriter. That means if I’m doing some writing, especially for a company as big as TFL, I would like to be paid. Not fobbed off with the promise of ‘exposure’.

b) The bigger reason by far is that I knew that TFL would choose awful sort-of-rhyming dross over anything more creative. Crap Verse in Ads put their money where their mouth was and entered some actually awesome (but sure, superbleak) poetry:

Needless to say they didn’t win. Still think they were robbed. I would have smiled every time I got in the carriage, had the above piece won.

Advertisers, it seems, can’t stay away from poetry. This despite poetry being a poor sales magnet in and of itself. This despite the fact they clearly don’t have much regard for the artform. Like the sort of person who sticks 17 lazy syllables down on paper and calls it a haiku, this lot rode roughshod over even the most basic elements of poetry in a six-line piece.

I imagine the conversation went along the lines of:

“We need to make this memorable. Really hammer the message home. But creatively. How about a song? Hmm, people remember songs.”

“Sir, this is on a poster.”

“Right, right. Say, aren’t poems like songs without music? People kind of like poetry at funerals and weddings.”

“Um, I guess. But Sir, I’ve not written a poem since my GCSEs, and even then it was about why Camellia Smart wouldn’t let me try and find Radio Luxembourg behind the bike sheds.”

“Ah, nobody will notice. You’re in Creative. Slap something together that fits in the space above the hipster art. Just make sure it rhymes. Honestly, if it rhymes…”

“Um…good times, Sir?”

“See? You’re a poet already!”

I’m not saying that Gertrude Stein is appropriate for a family-friendly, accessible poster (although how much fun would that be?), or that rhyme or light verse in general should be banished. Not at all, but light verse needn’t be shite verse (copyright Irving, K, 2016). I mean, they clearly paid a copywriter to do the original series of poems, so why in God’s name didn’t they think to HIRE A POET?

Seriously, London is lousy with them. Many even (ahem) double up as copywriters! One free post on Artsjobs and the offer of a fair day rate would see you rolling in playful, imaginative writing, working with someone used to critique and editing and creative reworking.

One of the reasons these posters have caused so much rage (one Telegraph writer claimed they were behind his decision to flee London entirely) is how patronising they are. Not just because of the bouncy, nursery-rhyme rhythm (which could have been catchy) or the “We really do not mean to chide” passive-aggression, but also due to the brokenness and half-arsedness of the writing’s construction.

The worst part? I still ride the bus to the tinny unsch-unsch of someone’s rackety earphones. I still see litter everywhere. I still see people jamming open the doors and chowing smelly food and blocking carriages in a world of their own. Other than annoying commuters, the posters have had zero effect on bad conduct.

You know the cliche of people visiting a contemporary art gallery and claiming their six-year-old could do better than that? I put it to you that not only could a six-year-old write better poetry, but that their work would be a lot more memorable.

I’m serious, TFL. Let’s get London’s schoolkids on the case. Contact Ministry of Stories, First Story, Live Canon, Young Poets Network, or one of the other creative writing organisations in this fine city. Nothing has a better effect on antisocial behaviour than being judged by a child. And pay them a fair rate while you’re at it.

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