Crap Verse in Ads: Mission Statement

Like many people who live in London, I spend most of my commuting time in a state of perpetual rage. And like most people who live in London, that has nothing to do with overcrowding, delays or any of the other inconveniences of urban travel. It is entirely due to this:

Last year Transport for London decided that, rather than having simple signs representing the stern voice of the establishment saying things like ‘Keep Your Feet Off The Seats’, ‘Give Up Your Seat To Those Who Need It More Than You Do’, or ‘For God’s Sake Just Show Some Basic Human Decency, Will You?’ commuters instead needed to be jollied into standard civility through the combined media of cartoons and verse.

There were so many things about these adverts that were an affront to the sensibilities of any thinking person that it was hard to know where to start. The pettiness of many of the injunctions? The patronising tone? The fact that some of the posters appeared to blame the passenger if they had the temerity to feel sick on the Tube (maybe because they were in a sweltering, speeding tinned meat container half a mile under the ground in the middle of July)? The contribution to the continuing matey-fication of public discourse (matey-fication: when everything from food packaging to arrears statements wants to be your mate rather than just conveying the information it set out to convey in the most straightforward way possible)?

Faced with all these competing insults, I did the only thing any rational person would do under the circumstances: I wrote a poem. Unfortunately, most of the poem’s effect relies on shouting, so there’s little point in reproducing it here.

But even that wasn’t enough, so I did the next thing any rational person would do under the circumstances: I started a tumblr. And like most people who start tumblrs I posted three or four entries and then promptly forgot all about it.

The account was called Crap Verse in Ads. It asked the question: if poetry doesn’t sell (and, being in the process of trying to open a poetry bookshop, I am continually being told it doesn’t), why does poetry sell… stuff?

It turns out I am not alone in wondering this, but over the next few Thursdays I will try to dig a bit further into the adverse effects of verse in ads.

In the meantime, here’s one of my entries for the TFL’s poster competition (realising they weren’t very good at producing the stuff themselves, they decided to outsource their copywriting for free):

I didn’t win.


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