Banks using poetry to sell banking is tantamount to graffiti being used to promote consumerism. Why? Because poetry (like graffiti) is about challenging the ordinary and drawing people’s attention to what’s possible outside of the mainstream. Both are used as mediums for seeing things differently.
The Nationwide poetry campaign has been running for just over a year now, using spoken word poetry to sell bank accounts. Spoken word poetry and bank accounts are incongruous noun phrases; put simply they shouldn’t be uttered alongside each other. The free-flowing and spontaneous nature of spoken word poetry is long associated with protest and emancipation. It’s a verse form, that like all good poetry, presents the ordinary in an extraordinary way. It’s not supposed to be associated with Nationwide, McDonalds or The Village Hotel franchises.
There’s a reason why banking doesn’t really appear in poetry; banking is ordinary. Uninspiring. Boring. And no amount of spoken word poetry can make it hip, youthful or interesting. During the late 1500s, Shakespeare exhausted every conceivable monetary metaphor in his sonnet series, and given its woeful status since the financial crash of 2008, the only poetry banking deserves in 2017 is protest poetry. Just try writing a poem about banking and you’ll soon be spieling off insulting rhymes on the word “bankers”.
What makes something poetry is up for debate. It always has been, always will be. From Allen Ginsberg, to John Cooper Clarke, good spoken word poetry has a musicality to it, cadences, repetitions, occasional rhymes. A good spoken word poem makes you stop, think and see something differently. It has the same effect as seeing this piece of graffiti for the first time:
Poetry should Stik
It’s the experience of poetry itself that’s really important. The moment when you find a poem that you really ‘get’. A poem that you want to remember. A poem that has most importantly, taught you something new or made you think in a new way. Not a poem that promises you £100 for getting a mate to set up a new bank account.
- “Make it new” – Ezra Pound the American poet believed all writing should aim to do this and this is something I believe poetry should aim to achieve, whether you’re writing a poem about autumn or a red wheel barrow. I’m not sure what the Nationwide is making new in its campaign. Its image of friendship is cynical and the format of using spoken word poetry in advertising isn’t novel or ground breaking.
- Poetry is ‘pure concentration, a focus where our power to concentrate is concentrated back on ourselves,’ said the Irish poet Seamus Heaney (Government of the Tongue). This one is troubling when you think about it. What is the Nationwide reflecting back to ourselves? That we should coerce our friends into setting up bank accounts for our own financial gain?
What are your thoughts, is the Nationwide campaign the worst advertisement on TV at the moment or is there worse out there?