Nick Olson, Student at University of Pennsylvania Law School and Wharton School

When my classmates find out I studied poetry in college, their typical reaction is, “Oh, so THAT’S how you wound up in law school!” And, in fact, studying poetry really did lead me to studying law and business – not because the market for poetry analysts had dried up, but because poetry taught me to appreciate all the subtle nuances in business communication and marketing.

Take, for example, some of the slogans from the marketing geniuses at Apple Inc. One of the very first slogans for the Macintosh computer back in 1993 was “It does more. It costs less. It’s that simple.”

See how effective that slogan is? One read and you’re halfway to memorizing it. Its pithy force led Apple to use it as a sort of slogan template for other products: iTunes had the slogan “Rip. Mix. Burn.” The 16 gigabyte iPhone had “More music. More video. More iPhone.” The 2008 iMac had “Beauty. Brains. And Now More Brawn.” Mac OS X had “It’s Here. It’s Real. It’s Amazing.”

Why does Apple love these kinds of slogans so much? Before you turn to ask a marketing analyst, you might consider going and asking a poet, because poets have a name for this sort of thing. It’s called an “isocolon,” and poets employ its crispness and parallel structure to leave an impact on readers. You can see why marketers like to use it as well – like Julius Caesar’s “I came. I saw. I conquered,” an isocolon can make a lasting impression on both readers and consumers.

But isocolons aren’t the only linguistic tool in the poet’s toolbox. Consider this memorable slogan from Bounce fabric softener: “Stops static before static stops you." This is a figure of speech poets call "antimetabole," and it has been used as a powerful, memorable rhetorical gesture by presidents ("Ask not what your country can do for you; ask what you can do for your country") and religious figures ("The last shall be first and the first shall be last") alike. Marketers too like to use it – it’s memorable, it’s piquant, and it’s effective.

Let me share one last tool from the poet’s toolbox. It’s called “anaphora,” and it’s the use of parallelism at the beginning of successive phrases or sentences. Here’s an example: the Coca-Cola Company, perhaps the biggest all-star in the history of marketing, ran an effective slogan in 1939: “Whoever you are, whatever you do, wherever you may be, when you think of refreshment, think of ice cold Coca-Cola.” Its repetitive and parallel force makes it one of the most effective poetic or rhetorical tools there are. It was the force behind Martin Luther King’s “I have a dream” speech. It’s the force behind the Beatitudes. And it’s the force behind many marketing slogans, too.

Poetry taught me to try to wield words like a doctor wields a scalpel. Or like an apprentice mechanic learning that it’s called a “lug wrench” and not a “twisty tire doohickey,” poetry transforms a writer’s and a marketer’s confusing mental hodgepodge into a rhetorical toolbox. It taught me to spend more time turning words into ideas, instead of wasting time trying to turn ideas into words. And it can teach marketers, slogan-writers, and branders, too.

P.S. I used all three kinds of poetic and rhetorical tools in the article itself. Let us know in the comments if you can find them all!