Ad and marketing creatives

Vocab Lab: If Left to My Own Poetic Devices...

I love the assonance in my name, the repeated long "u" sound in Julia Rubiner. Which isn't to say I haven't daydreamed that my name is Julia Jubiner (or for that matter, in the manner of Scooby Doo, Rulia Rubiner) because then I'd enjoy both assonance and alliteration, two of my favorite poetic devices, and, as I've learned in my copywriting work, two great tastes that taste great together (the writer who coined that phrase on behalf of Reese's to describe the relationship between peanut butter and chocolate clearly knew a thing or two about assonance).

Alliteration is the repetition of the first consonant sound; Merriam-Webster cites "wild and woolly" and "threatening throngs" as examples, noting that alliteration is sometimes called head rhyme or initial rhyme. Assonance, a kissin' cousin of alliteration, is the repetition of a vowel, "as in stony and holy." (I'm also fond of consonance, the repetition of a consonant, but I don't reach for it as often.) Strictly speaking, alliteration applies to the initial sound of words, whereas assonance occurs within words.

The value of these tricks of the writer's trade is suggested by the Latin root of assonance: sonus, which Merriam-Webster translates as "sound" (the Latin root of alliteration, by the way, is littera, in English, "letter"). Sonus is also at the heart of sonorous, which Merriam-Webster defines as "imposing or impressive in effect or style." Plainly stated, alliteration and assonance sound good; they are pleasing to the ear, or euphonious, which itself is a little piece of ear candy.

Thus alliteration and assonance seduce the listener, draw him in, encourage him to linger a little longer on the language. After all, to quote Jay Conrad Levinson, the 800-pound gorilla of guerrilla marketing, in his recent "Patience in Marketing," "As real estate is location location location, marketing is frequency frequency frequency." The word frequency here equates to repetition. And though I don't have any evidence to back it up — save for civilization's millennia-long love affair with verse — it seems that the repetition of sound (employed with finesse, of course) bolsters a piece of writing in much the same way repeated messages aid in sales. In both instances, of course, we are appealing to the subconscious.

Speaking of which, just because we're copywriters doesn't mean we can't aspire to poetry. My heart leaps up each and every time I write an alliterative or assonant phrase; sometimes it happens by accident and I don't notice it until the read-through. Still, I pat myself on the back, paraphrasing Peter O'Toole in Lawrence of Arabia with an inward "clever girl."

A gifted writer I know once made a reference to "cheap alliteration." He wasn't talking about my work, but it stung as if he'd slapped me. "You, sir," I can only think now, "are a killjoy." Because, gosh darnit, there is joy in alliteration and assonance. This is how writers play, and it is a delight that, however subconsciously, is detected by readers. And isn't making a connection with readers what writing — yes, even copywriting — is all about?

But wait! What about haiku? Or sestina? Check out "A Few Words About a Few Words" and see just how effective (and liberating) the Japanese poetic device can be. Then there's Editorial Emergency partner Simon's legendary "Bacon Sestina." I don't doubt that at least some of those who read the words "Their pinkly marbled pieces done up crisp/ A true apotheosis of the pork/ Illuminated manuscripts of fat" dashed out to the store for a rasher or made haste to the local purveyor of all-day breakfast. Perhaps even more important than the promotion of that commodity "bestreaked with tender fat," however, was the creative-palate-cleansing power of the exercise. A little alliteration or assonance in your direct mail — or a bit of rhyme-scheming between print ads — may make your prose that much more persuasive.

In short, don't sleep on the poetry, people.

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Julia Rubiner is a partner in Editorial Emergency, a Los Angeles copy shop specializing in content manufacturing and brand communications for entertainment, lifestyle and nonprofit concerns. She is also a personal-branding consultant, writing resumes, LinkedIn summaries and executive bios, among other tools, for people in creative fields who want to advance their careers. A long time ago in a galaxy far, far away, she was an editor of reference publications. Rubiner wears the label "word nerd" as a badge of honor. Click here to read more articles by Julia Rubiner.

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Comments from our users:

Thursday July 17th 2008, 9:32 AM
Comment by: JoAnna T. (Rock Rapids, IA)
Love it! This article speaks directly to me as I am a copywriter by day and a poet by, lets say, any other time I am not working. Rhyme is one of the most powerful tools in the English language...and I am proud to use it, even if only sparingly at my day job. Alliteration and assonance aren't thought of as stars in marketing, but they ought to be. However, in poetry they are the heart and soul that breathe life into every piece. They are like a poet's paint colors...with rhyme we create our masterpieces. (yes, even in free verse!) And if marketing writers can't appreciate alliteration and assonance, they aren't writers. Thanks for the wonderful article. Oh, how I wish each day to be bound each to each with rhyme and poetry!

Just wanted to let you know poetry isn't asleep. It's alive and well in copywriters who have to make a living by marketing. And yes, from time to time, it will peek out of our marketing pieces.
Thursday July 17th 2008, 12:32 PM
Comment by: martin H.
Woo who to you Simon and Julia! As an agency copy writer in the middle of an assignment, I truly appreciated this tasty reminder that our work has the power to move people in so many different ways. Thank you.
Thursday July 17th 2008, 2:05 PM
Comment by: Roberta C.
I've never written a comment on any website before, ever. And I am not a poet though I have loved poetry since my mother read to me when I was a little girl. I am a musician, and I thank all of you for such wonderful comments which truly do give me hope that poetry and the appreciation for the sheer beauty and MUSIC in using words, is not dead. You have truly made my day. Julia's remarks were wonderful and JoAnna is spot on. Would it not be remarkable if more people recognized the true power, not just of words themselves, but the power their sounds have upon us. Thank you all.

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