Although copy actually refers to all different types of written content used in online media and print materials – full-length articles, blog posts, website texts etc. – the word is more often associated with marketing or sales copy: words written to persuade potential customers to become actual customers.
Poetry, on the other hand, is an art form: it’s associated with beauty and aesthetics, and at first sight seems to have little in common with the hard-nosed world of advertising.
At some level, though, both copy and poetry are written with the intention of affecting the feelings of the reader and influencing them in some way. Doggerel and light verse are often written simply to amuse, while other poems may be intended to inspire joy, wonder, horror, sympathy or any of a whole range of other emotions. Advertising copy is also written to trigger an emotional response: we convince customers by impressing them, by delighting them, or amusing them with stories and scripts that make them want to buy; we raise their expectations, we inspire them with envy or fear: in short we engage their attention and connect with their emotions.
Although epic poetry also exists, we tend to think of poems as short-form writing: a traditional sonnet is only 140 syllables long, a haiku just 17. Many of the best – and most memorable – advertising slogans are even shorter: Just do it – Put a tiger in your tank – It’s good to talk – Snap! Crackle! Pop!…
Like poetry, advertising uses rhythm and word play, it juggles sounds and meaning. Both copywriting and poetry could be described as:
Concise, potentially multi-layered and playful language, which makes use of techniques such as metre, rhyme, alliteration and assonance, repetition, parallelism and allusion to evoke an emotional response in the mind of the reader.
The story of Oscar Wilde spending an exhausting day on a poem – a whole morning deciding to put a comma in and then a whole afternoon deciding to take it out again – is probably apocryphal, but it highlights the care that a poet may take over every tiny detail of their work