Thinking back to when I was a kid, I’m not sure if I appreciated the wisdom of Dr. Seuss (aka Theodor Geisel) as much as I do as an adult. His books always entertained me to be sure, but I didn’t realize the words of sheer wisdom he created until I was older. The majority of life’s lessons can be found on the pages of his books and I think fondly of tidbits like, “Unless someone like you cares a whole awful lot, nothing is going to get better. It’s not.” And who could forget, “The more that you read, the more things you will know. The more that you learn, the more places you’ll go!”
While the list of Seuss-isms goes on and on, I instead choose to tell you how Dr. Seuss actually taught me something else that helps me in my professional life. I give to you the lessons that Dr. Seuss taught me about copywriting.
The Five Lessons of Copywriting by Dr. Seuss
- Good writing not only speaks to the reader, it involves the reader. When Geisel first signed with Houghton Mifflin, the director of the publisher’s education division said that the children’s book market was current lacking. The publisher wanted Geisel to write a book that “first graders couldn’t put down.” Up until that time children had largely been subjected to the Dick and Jane books, which were not a bunch of fun. So what was the product of Houghton Mifflin’s challenge? The Cat in the Hat. The lesson here? That the voice used in writing is everything. And that if you try something different—something engaging and entertaining— people are likely to take notice. This applies to B2B and B2C copy as much as it does to the message delivered in a children’s book.
- Good writing gets to the point. When you think of Dr. Seuss you might automatically think that the writing is a bunch of fluff. This couldn’t be further from the truth. For instance, the entirety of The Cat in the Hat only comprises 225 words (that’s a lot less than this blog post, I’ll tell you that. As of this word, I am at 367). Moreover, Green Eggs and Ham only has a total of 50 different words. Now think about how this compares to your copywriting. If you are operating under the idea that “we need to make sure we hit the 500 word mark because that is what the gods at Google want to see,” you might be adding words that are pointless, distract a reader or dilute your message.
- Good writing is captivating. Each of us has been sold to at some point in our lives via persuasive and thought provoking copy. Dr. Seuss was a true master in the art of getting an important point across in a powerful way that spoke directly to a reader. For example, think about the Grinch. Here was a character hell bent on destroying Christmas by stealing presents. This book first appealed to and identified with the reader’s mass consumerism and then provided that same reader with an alternate solution: that Christmas is about the feeling it inspires, not the size of the haul under the tree. “Then the Grinch thought of something he hadn’t before! What if Christmas, he thought, doesn’t come from a store. What if Christmas…perhaps…means a little bit more!” This message spoke directly to the audience and it approached the topic of mass consumerism in a different way. The same holds true for The Lorax and that book’s take on environmentalism. The writing is compelling, it is memorable and it inspires action. In today’s Internet-driven world, this would be the type of copy that would be shared, liked and turned into a YouTube video. Employ this copywriting tactic and separate yourself from the herd.
- Good writing sticks with you. How many of us can recite Green Eggs and Ham from memory? What about Oh, the Places You’ll Go? “Congratulations! Today is your day. You’re off to Great Places! You’re off and away!” It might not be something that we think about, but these words are burned on our brain and we can summon them on demand. Just think about your favorite book. Why is it your favorite? Yes, the story hooked you, but if the writing wasn’t fantastic you would have forgotten it after you finished it. I know I have been there, considering a book on my shelf and knowing that I had read it but cannot remember what it was about. It might have had a storyline that entertained me while I was reading, but there was nothing special about the writing to make it live in my head. This also applies to copywriting and, if you can bring it home when writing about your product or service, it will stick with your clients and they will remember to come back to your website or hang on to your brochure.
- Good writing puts the written word on a pedestal. I think that this is probably the most important lesson Dr. Seuss taught me: that the written word should be celebrated. I know many people might consider this point and be confused about how they can turn their corporate-speak copy into entertaining prose, but it can be done. This is where you have to think outside-of-the-box. Throw away the boardroom buzzwords and think about what you would say to a client to get them excited about your brand. Don’t just tell a prospective customer what you think they need to hear about your company; tickle their fancy, inspire them, involve their imagination and paint a picture with words. Celebrate the written word, don’t treat it like an employee; it’s your partner, your salesperson, your muse.
It’s time to start caring about the words we use in our copy. In closing, take this last piece of advice on how to write. Remember, it doesn’t matter that Dr. Seuss wrote children’s books and stop thinking there is a divide between how to appeal to an adult reader and how to appeal to the interests of a child. It’s one and the same.
“We throw in as many fresh words as we can get away with. Simple, short sentences don’t always work. You have to do tricks with pacing, alternate long sentences with short, to keep it alive and vital. Virtually every page is a cliffhanger—you’ve got to force them to turn it.”
So said Seuss.
Copywriting can be creative and inspiring. If you are searching for guidance, the team at Grammar Chic can help. Call 803-831-7444 or visit www.grammarchic.net today. We also invite you to follow us on Twitter @GrammarChicInc and give a “like” to our Facebook page.
Amanda E. Clark founded Grammar Chic in 2008. She is a graduate of Eastern Michigan University and holds degrees in Journalism, Political Science, and English. She launched Grammar Chic after freelancing for several years while simultaneously leading marketing and advertising initiatives for several Fortune 500 companies.