Dr. Seuss Day is coming up on March 2. Could you create effective marketing copy by imposing limits on how you write—as Dr. Seuss did? Should you?
For his best-selling children's book Green Eggs and Ham, Seuss set himself a strict limit of only 50 words. Considering that he successfully got an entire generation of kids learning to read and having fun doing it, his writing techniques are worth examining.
Using literary devices you wouldn't normally use might hem in your writing ability—or completely unleash it.
Seuss not only used small amounts of simple words but also explored repetition, alliteration, and rhyme, and he invented new words while crafting his stories. Kids couldn't get enough.
As we celebrate Dr. Seuss Day, what can we learn from him?
1. Rhyming helps solidify memory
Why is it that you can remember marketing slogans from 5, 15, or even 35 years ago, but you can't seem to remember anything on the shopping list you left at home? I wager that many, if not nearly all, those memorable slogans rhymed.
Rhyming is the literary device that most people associate with the works of Dr. Seuss. Rhyme turns out to be a powerful element that made his books both treasured and unforgettable.
Children—heck, even adults—are able to rattle off line after line of Seuss's books. And that was his intention: getting kids to connect the words on the page with sounds they hear in their mind and say out loud. When words in a phrase or series of lines sound alike, it is much easier to connect the words together and to remember them.
Throughout the '90s, Pringles had us chanting, "Once you pop, you can't stop!" and accompanied the slogan with commercials full of rhythmic percussion. It's the brand's most memorable campaign, and it successfully boosted sales.
Timex put its watches through famous torture tests, including placing a watch in a washing machine, having one shaken by a jackhammer, tossing a Timex over the Grand Coulee Dam, and being worn during a cliff dive in Acapulco. The slogan proclaimed, "Timex. It takes a licking and keeps on ticking." By 1967, the company had cornered the watch brand market.
Folgers added the benefit of music to the rhyming pattern of its slogan. Rhyming itself gives words a singsong cadence. But add a melody and you've upped the impact. "The best part of waking up, is Folgers in your cup." Just try to say that in your mind without hearing the jingle. To top it off, the melody has been sung by the likes of Ritchie Havens, Randy Travis, and Aretha Franklin (my idol).
Marketers have used this technique—and been celebrated for it—pretty much since marketing became an industry. You can toil over your taglines, slogans, and other essential marketing copy for as long as you need, but the bottom line is they must be instantly memorable.
2. Use repetition of sounds to create rhythm
Seuss used repetition consistently in his books, and by the midpoint of Green Eggs and Ham you're pretty certain that the man does not want that particular breakfast.
In marketing, you may not have the copy length to repeat phrases over and over. But, strategically squeezing in that branded tagline just one or two more times could get you closer to having your product better remembered.
Seuss also used alliteration, the repetition of the initial consonant sound. You see this device in the names of Coca-Cola, Dirt Devil, Range Rover, and other brands.
Repeating consonants within copy or product names creates similar brand memory. "M&M's melt in your mouth…not in your hands," is a prime example.
Use this technique to give your words a bouncy rhythm that sticks.
3. What's a Sneetch?
Seuss invented words in nearly all his works, mostly to name creatures that exist only in his stories.
Did you know he was the first person known to use the term "nerd" in 1950? It was the name he gave an animal in If I Ran a Zoo. A year later the word was used in a Newsweek article to describe someone who was a "square."
"Nerd" has been a common word for years now, and it has lost most of its negative meaning.
Creating new words makes readers stop, read again, and wonder: How do they pronounce it? What does it mean?
As a marketer, you also have the power to create entirely new words to communicate new ideas that your audience will never forget.
What is Retsyn? Well, of course, it's the secret ingredient in Certs that was a "miracle breath purifier."
"Dependability" was not a word when it was coined by marketer Theodore MacManus to describe Dodge cars in 1914. His "Dodge Dependability" campaign communicated how the cars would not break down... and it sold thousands of vehicles.
Even though it wasn't invented strictly for product marketing purposes, the first Queer Eye for the Straight Guy used the term "manscaping" to describe, well, you know... Shaving brands jumped right on the wave and started marketing male body grooming tools.
And, seriously, haven't many of us tried shouting "Dilly, dilly!" when raising a bottled beverage with our friends?
4. Infuse your copy with life
The classic primer in the hands of most school children at the time Seuss began publishing was the Dick and Jane series. Decent books for learning to read... but oh, so boring!
Seuss was challenged by the director of Houghton Mifflin's educational division to "write a story first-graders can't put down." Seuss invented The Cat in the Hat and hit the target dead center.
Seuss's writing leaps off the page with energy, life, rhythm, and bounce. They're fun and entertaining to read, and to say out loud. The illustrations are bright, original, and captivating. Seuss kept his word selection simple but his stories far from dull.
For marketers, there's a lesson there, too.
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- 8 Tips for Discovering Your Writing Genius [Infographic]
- Social Distancing Is Changing the Way We Write. That's a Problem.
- How to Write Your Face Off: Writing for Non-Writers
- The Cure for Crummy Copy: Laura Belgray of Talking Shrimp on Marketing Smarts [Podcast]
- 29 Ways to Improve Your Writing Skills and Avoid Content Mediocrity [Infographic]
- Nine Cringey Mistakes in Marketing Writing and Content