Diminishing poets by making them pitchmen.

When advertising practitioners stoop to a new low, it must not go without comment.

Recently, it seems that some advertisers have decided to parade the world’s greatest poets as pitchmen. Whitman’s “Song of the Open Road” has been co-opted by Grey New York for its client, Volvo. There’s now an Infiniti spot featuring William Blake’s The Tyger. And some entity called “America’s Pharmaceutical Companies” has stolen Dylan Thomas’ “Do Not Go Gentle into That Good Night.”

Borrowing or stealing from cultural sources in advertising is nothing new. In fact, it happens all the time. And doing so isn’t necessarily a bad thing. It’s really case-by-case, a question of degree, context and target audience.

But, when ad agencies feel compelled to resort to the borrowed greatness of other people’s writing, rather than challenging the copywriting talent within their own cubicles, it’s clear that, in this era of the visual, our industry has not only devalued language, we’re not even bothering to articulate the brand’s message. Just stick some poem in there. It’s borrowed interest, pure and simple, the language equivalent of exploiting the image of a large breasted woman to sell hamburgers or car parts. It’s apparent that either there is a glaring shortage of competent—never mind talented—copywriters, or, there is no such shortage, and ad agencies are simply squandering or disregarding their own copywriting resources due to a combination of laziness and an obsession with the visual image that blinds them to the power of language.

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