What Dr. Seuss can teach you about copywriting

Confession time: I love Dr. Seuss.

The words to One Fish, Two Fish are stuck in my brain. I have a Dr. Seuss watch. I have Dr. Seuss books on my iPad. I watch “How the Grinch Stole Christmas” ever year. I even have a limited edition print hanging in my bedroom.

Why? The words that Theodor Geisel (otherwise known as Dr. Seuss) wrote had an impact on me. Yes, his books taught me how to read (and they always bring back fond memories of my mother reading them to me.) But it’s more than that.

His books taught me that reading (and writing) is fun. And engaging. And interesting.

(I’m guessing that many readers feel the exact same way.)

What makes Dr. Seuss so great? Back in the day of Dick and Jane, he rejected the “normal” children’s book style and blazed his very own path. Heck, Geisel even made up words that are part of our every day vocabulary. Ever wonder where the word “nerd” comes from? The first reported usage is in the 1950 story “If I Ran The Zoo.” 

What’s more, his writing is spot on – 50+ years later. And that’s pretty cool.

Here are five things that his books can teach you about copywriting.

Good writing celebrates the written word. Feeling bogged-down by corporate-speak? Why not have fun with your writing instead?  I love the 37 signals site because the writing is lighthearted and personal. They don’t stuff their keywords. They don’t use buzzwords. It’s good writing that actually makes project management sound fun.

Good writing “speaks” to the reader. Geisel was challenged by William Ellsworth Spaulding, the director of the education division at Houghton Mifflin to write a book that first graders couldn’t put down. The result? The Cat in the Hat. Prior to that, kids were reading about Dick, Jane and Spot… which was not as fun (nor as creative) as a talking cat with a striped hat. The lesson? Think out of the box and try a different “voice” (and yes, that applies even if you’re a B2B company.) You may not be able to work Thing One and Thing Two into your copy – but you usually do something creative that grabs your readers’ attention.

Good writing is tight – not fluffy. Did you know that Green Eggs and Ham contains just 50 different words? The Cat in the Hat has 225 words – and that’s a much shorter word count than the average blog post or sales page. Think about how this relates to your own writing. If you find yourself adding extra words for some stupid “we think Google wants 500 word blog posts,” reason – stop it. Be like Dr. Seuss and write tight. Fluffy is only good for, well, green eggs.

Good writing is compelling.  Geisel was a master of getting a message across in a very low-key and powerful way. The Sneetches is a fun book – but it also talks about respecting folks who are “different” than you. The Lorax is thought to be Geisel’s take on environmentalism. Think about your audience, and consider how you can approach your topic just a little bit differently. Compelling writing is what gets shared, liked and cited. Boring stuff that you’ll find on every other site is just…boring.

Good writing is memorable.  How many of us can still remember Dr. Seuss’ Hinkle Horn Honking Club? Or can finish the sentence, “Look what I found in the dark…in the park…?” Good writing burrows into our brain and takes root. Think about the best book that you’ve ever read. Sure, the story was compelling. But it’s the writing that really brings it home. If your website copy sounds like Dick and Jane (that is, boring) why not try rewriting some pages? You may be surprised at how much people will want to read your content (and yes, even buy from you, too!)

I’ll leave you from a quote from The Lorax that perfectly applies to copywriting (especially SEO copywriting.)

“Unless someone like you cares a whole awful lot,
Nothing is going to get better. It’s not.”

If you write crappy content, your readers won’t care, Google won’t care and your conversions won’t get better.

It’s time to care a whole awful lot.

 

17 replies
  1. Andy Nattan
    Andy Nattan says:

    I can’t stand Dr Seuss, but I love this post.

    You (and the good doctor) are spot on about the post lengths too. I regularly put out blog posts that are dead on 200 words – helps me put together clear, concise arguments and eliminate all that unnecessary waffle.

    Reply
  2. Heather Georgoudiou
    Heather Georgoudiou says:

    Nice post Heather-

    Great insights – really inspiring to keep pushing yourself creatively. Sometimes it’s tough– especially since most web readers are scanners and you wonder if you are really reaching anyone.

    But then you get an encouraging reply from a total stranger and you know someone out there is reading – and benefitting from your hard work. And that’s what makes it so magical. Just like Dr. Seuss.

    Reply
  3. Tonia Brewer
    Tonia Brewer says:

    Thanks Heather for such a great post, so far today I like it the most! It’s always such fun to quote Mr. Seuss, but digging deeper proves a much better use!

    Reply
  4. Katie
    Katie says:

    Great post Heather. Dr. Seuss was a staple of my childhood, but I’ve never thought about his relationship to my “grown-up” work. (Also, thanks for the etymology of “nerd.”)

    Reply
  5. Katherine Andes
    Katherine Andes says:

    Good one, Heather, though I never cared for Dr. Seuss. He came later … and I loved the children’s story books of earlier days. However, I will admit a passion for Green Eggs and Ham. That one cracks me up. I always wanted to do a dramatic presentation of that. For myself, I’m finding that as I get more confident with my skills, I’m being more adventurous with copy and my clients love it.

    Reply
  6. Matthew Newnham
    Matthew Newnham says:

    Thanks for my (now) favourite post ever from you, Heather – fab & scrumptious! I had a maths lecturer at uni who handed me The Lorax one time I came to visit him – I knew I’d come to the right place…

    And for years, I’ve referred to our sons as Thing One and Thing Two (they’ve taken that as read).

    So here’s to creative and compelling writing… and with apologies to the dear Dr, as I cannot dwell on this little immodest homage:

    I do not like them,
    very much.
    Those websites
    With no writer’s touch.

    I do not mind keywords
    Here or there

    Use them boldly
    If you dare.
    But goodness me, not
    everywhere.
    I do not like
    Sites with no damn
    Compelling substance,
    Sam-I-am…

    Reply

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