July 24, 2014

Should You Include Poetry on Your Packaging?

Should You Include Poetry on Your Packaging?

With consumers almost universally disdaining overly verbose product descriptions and labeling, some marketing departments have wisely decided, “Hey, instead of lengthy messages that customers either ignore or are intensely irritated by, why not put our Chaucerian Lit minors to good use and incorporate poetry on our labels? After all, there’s nothing a customer appreciates more than a product that reminds him of his academic failings.”

Alright, not every decision to include poetry on packaging design is based upon the designers’ intense scorn of the public, but if the poetry is excessively long and egg-heady, it could potentially alienate the customers you want to attract. But for those of you who insist on including a sonnet on your label designs, there might be a way to proceed without either annoying your customers or making them feel like idiots.

Keep It Short

A few profound lines and nothing more – when you get into multiple stanzas, you’re just showing off. A rhyming couplet is quick enough and clever enough to delight your consumer base while conveying the message that you don’t take yourself too seriously.

Keep It Product and Brand Appropriate

A sweeping wind doth lift me o’er the shire,
While burning love ignites my soul to fire.
If thou does care I prithee be not glib,
But cool me with refreshing Mr. Pibb.

Just because you can rhyme doesn’t mean you should; there’s a fine line between charming and obnoxious. If your brand has already cultivated a particular image that doesn’t happen to be especially poetic, there is no need to try to force lyricism onto your product just to satisfy some unfortunate desire to “think outside the box.” Sometimes, ideas should remain firmly encased in their tidy enclosures.

Don’t Overcomplicate It

Inadvertently bad poetry is not only a waste of space, it delivers exactly the opposite message you want to convey. See, the public might forgive slapdash package design from a new company that is trying to keep costs down. But idiotic poetry that has the intention of quality tells your consumer base that you have squandered valuable time and resources on a dreadfully pretentious concept. Everyone has known someone who had designs upon being a great artist/actor/writer but who was woefully devoid of talent. Don’t let your product be that guy.

Literary References Are Good – To an Extent

If you deliberately recall a famous poem or piece of literature, make sure it is appropriately reverential – you don’t want to be comparing your series of styling gels to William Shakespeare. That’s wrong on so many levels.

Careful Where You Get Your Source Material

While this line of Kallo unsalted rice cakes isn’t making particularly strong literary illusions, it does enter the realm of parable:

The king who lived in the castle,
Was incredibly tidy and neat.
He made sure his crown always sparkled,
And refused to get mud on his feet.

He wouldn’t eat anything fussy,
He liked his food simple and plain.
So he banished all salt from his kingdom,
And was admired throughout his long reign.

Now, this is certainly brand-appropriate (it’s a line of fair-trade, organic, salt-free rice cakes, for heaven’s sake), but it reminds us of an old fable, which involved a vainglorious king and his very pragmatic daughter, that had the exact opposite message.

See, the Lear-like king demanded that his children express their profound love for him in only the most glowing terms. The pragmatic princess simply said, “I love the king like salt.” The king, insulted and furious, banished her immediately. The resourceful princess snuck into his royal kitchen and asked the cooks to remove all salt from the royal food preparation, which they did. Well, after only one salt-free meal, the king and his court were (understandably) ready to commit suicide, at which time the princess revealed herself as the daughter who loves the king like salt. The king, realizing that salt was probably the most precious thing on the planet and possibly the universe, restored the princess to favor, and all was salty and well ever after.

Now, not everyone is going to make this comparison, but those who buy organic rice cakes are definitely more likely to be familiar with esoteric folk tales than those who nosh exclusively on Flamin’ Hot Cheetos. The little package poem might only remind the customer how freakin’ important a little salt is to culinary enjoyment. Trust us, we know what customers want to see on their packaging.

It may seem as though we’re not in favor of poetry on package design, but that’s not the case at all. We’re in favor of anything done well, and an interesting little poem on an elegant package design might add a considerable amount of prestige and interest to an otherwise standard package. Nevertheless, try to keep your poem appropriate, exciting and succinct – the phrase “always leave them wanting more” was coined for a reason.

Also, if the Mr. Pibb marketing department is interested in our little ode, we’re willing discuss terms, so long as those terms involve suitcases full of cash.


by Kevin Smith
SmashBrand helps brands create, optimize, and launch successful products, services, and customer experiences. Our data-driven process is the key to accelerating sales and minimizing risks.

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