Accurate data and fact-based information are critical for educating people about the most important issues of our time. But with countless voices vying for our headspace and heartstrings, facts and figures alone are rarely enough to persuade and motivate us. Like locking eyes with someone across a crowded room or hearing a childhood tune in an unfamiliar place, poetry cuts through the noise.
U.S. poet laureate Tracy K. Smith described poetry as offering us “feeling, association, music, and image—things we recognize and respond to even before we understand why.” And neuroscience research increasingly confirms: “Poetry is a powerful emotional stimulus capable of engaging brain areas of primary reward.”
Using poetic language in messaging engages multiple parts of the brain. Vivid words, meaningful metaphors, rhymes, and other poetic devices light up our language, visual, and memory centers.
To paraphrase Nobel Prize-winning psychologist and economist Daniel Kahneman, poetic devices align with the part of our brain that is effortless and intuitive—mirroring neural maps that already exist in our mind.
Fortunately, despite being associated with distant ivory towers, the persuasive power of poetry is available to us all. At Hattaway, we use poetic devices to craft meaningful and memorable messages, which we call Winning Words. Following are examples of poetic devices backed by research and illustrated by examples of our work with various clients.
Alliteration: the use of words that begin with the same sound near each other, a technique shown to increase memorability. It supports our ability to remember a brand and its values.
Supporting innovators, sparking innovation
- ASHFoundation brand message
- Massachusetts General Hospital capital campaign message
Starting Smart & Strong
- Robert Wood Johnson Foundation brand message
Anaphora: repetition of a word or expression at the beginning of successive phrases, clauses, sentences, or verses. Like alliteration, anaphora increases a statement’s memorability as well as persuasive and emotional impact. Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. famously exemplified it when he chose to start eight consecutive sentences in his most famous speech with “I have a dream.”
Connecting people. Connecting nations.
- Fulbright program brand message
Metaphor: a word or phrase for one thing used to refer to another thing to suggest they are similar, an evocative device used to link new ideas to concepts with which we are already familiar. Metaphors can make abstract ideas tangible for a reader or listener, which is at the core of poetry’s ability to “evoke a concentrated imaginative awareness of experience.”
Working with visionaries on the frontlines of social change.
- Ford Foundation brand tagline
Rhythm: an ordered recurrent alternation of strong and weak elements in the flow of sound and silence. Rhythm is a musical, beat-driven pattern of words that helps them remain and reverberate in our minds.
Girls are cast as servants instead of students, property instead of partners, and outcasts instead of leaders.
- NoVo Foundation advocacy message
Weaving beautiful, poetic form into your messages is a proven strategy for striking a chord at both the head and heart levels. It presents a winsome system of words “matched to the hierarchical organization of the brain itself.”
Talk about resonance!