Henceforth, Take Thou Eyes Lain Upon Thee Visions of Beauty In Thee Gracious Contemplation of One’s Portfolio And Banish Them Forevermore

Back when I was a student in college, I took a poetry-writing course that turned out to be on of the biggest influences on my writing career hawking hamburgers, pickles, pre-need funerals, and other earthly consumer and business-to-business goods. It was taught by a visiting professor. I don’t remember his name, but I was told he was a published poet.

Early in the trimester—it even could have been on the first day—he said that there are many words that inherently sound “poetic” and that we were, henceforth, banned from using them. He believed that these words were a cheap attempt at creating false emotion and had been used to death by students and others trying to sound lyrical.

This corresponds to the advice given by advertising legend Amil Gargano when he said, “Stick to simple language and, instead, put life into the concept.”

Amil Gargano also said, “If it has tremendous relevance and strikes some essential truth in people, an ad can produce astounding results.” Again, this sounded like advice that my poetry professor would have given.

Now I bet you’re about to say that I followed my poetry professor’s advice, which is half correct. Most of the time, I try to be as simple with my language usage as possible. I have found that this works for me. I try to stay away from “tortured English,” a phrase I first heard used by Gargano. I’ve never been very good at creating short, pun-like taglines and think that most of them are a waste of ink.

But in the course, I set out to write a poem that incorporated all of the banned words. It was fun to write, self-referential, filled with irony and humor, and a big break from the sensitive, woe-is-me style and the war-is-bad message poetry I and the other students in the course had been producing. My professor loved my poem.

I bring this up because I ask my students to stay away from easy and overused products or even entire categories. (Some portfolio schools even maintain lists of banned products and services.)

But every once in a while, a student challenges my advice, picks a “banned” product or service, and actually produces a unique, never-seen-before campaign based on a new insight or a new twist on an old insight. I think that’s great. In fact, I wish I could see more of that.

So, here’s my challenge to you. What do you see as the easy or overused products and services? And what campaigns have you seen recently that have made you think twice about them? If you can’t find one, what can you do to create one? Even if it won’t get produced, it would sure look good in your book.

The same goes for imagery and design styles. What images or tactics are currently being overused? Or what Photoshop trick is hot this week? Do you avoid them or do you keep going when the concept is right and make them your own? I think you know my answer. In fact, my goal is to be able to use a picture of two business executives shaking hands in an ad that is actually good. Perhaps one day, I will get the chance.

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