Word Play on Dr. Seuss Day
This Saturday is Dr. Seuss Day. Seuss wrote “Green Eggs and Ham” using only 50 words, and successfully got a whole generation of kids having fun learning to read. “I have great pride in taking Dick and Jane out of most school libraries,” he once said, referring to the standard, dull reading primers of the 50s.
Seuss’ success can be seen in how he used words, constructed sentences, and how they sound out loud. Rhyming, alliteration, and repetition were writing techniques he used to make his prose almost rhythmic, musical — and very memorable. Marketers use tools like these every day, in the ongoing quest to create that superb slogan, terrific tagline, and sweet tweet.
While not a very economic tool for marketing writers, Seuss used repetition constantly in his writing. I mean, how many ways did the man tell Sam-I-Am that he didn’t want green eggs and ham? “I do not like them in a house. I do not like them with a mouse.” And of course, this goes on for quite a few pages.
Repetition is certainly a great technique for teaching children to hear and read sight words. It’s also handy for drilling home your branding. Repeating that tagline just one more time in the copy, so they’ll remember your product. But marketers don’t always have the luxury of writing whole pages of material to get the public to remember and buy their product. Sometimes, they have barely a phrase.
Use your consonants
Alliteration, a form of repetition, was also used by Seuss, sometimes in conjunction with both repetition and rhyme. This is the repeating of an initial consonant sound. You can see this in AOL’s slogan “Welcome to the World Wide Wow” and the “Daily Diary of the American Dream” from the Wall Street Journal. Alliteration, however, can become more of a tongue-twister than something easily remembered, as seen in Dr. Seuss’s ABC: “David Donald Doo dreamed a dozen doughnuts and a duck-dog, too,”
You can see alliteration used more often with product and company names, to great success: Best Buy, PayPal, Constant Contact, and Krispy Kreme. Using alliteration with names gives them a catchy pattern that instantly sticks in your mind.
But Seuss seemed to lean most heavily on rhyme. It’s the writing technique that made Seuss’s books extra special. And amazingly memorable. Marketers have also used rhyme for over 100 years. And many marketers are celebrated for their inspired language, much like Seuss is—because rhyming works.
Using the sound of words to make connections
How many marketing slogans or taglines can you remember off the top of your head? Without opening a browser I could name eighteen. What did nearly all of them have in common? They rhymed.
As branding legend Al Ries wrote, we think in sounds, not written words. Rhymes are memorable because “Sounds that are related to each other apparently establish connections in minds.”
Building longevity directly into your slogan
How can you create a slogan that will do its job and promote your product? And do it for years? Make it easily memorable. Cultural oral histories have been known to use rhyme to preserve the accuracy of stories as they are passed down to younger generations.
Repetition and alliteration are also both useful tools to make copy memorable. But rhyme does something other techniques do not. It increases the chance that people will remember due to the connection of the rhyming sounds.
Everyone knows the adage “An apple a day keeps the doctor away.” Easy to remember and rolls off the tongue. Did you know that saying is actually a marketing slogan for the apple industry? Oh yes! In the 1920s, advertising agency Mather & Crowther—the forerunner to Ogilvy & Mather—was hired to promote apples to consumers. They created a slogan that has lasted nearly 100 years.
Why does rhyming work?
Plainly said, rhyming sticks. It’s a kind of mnemonic—a memory tool. It’s easy to remember due to the repetition of certain sounds, usually at the end of a line. Scientifically, this is known as acoustic encoding and has been an essential teaching tool for ages: “leaves of three, let it be,” a warning to spot poison ivy and “One if by land, and two if by sea; And I on the opposite shore will be,” for American history lessons.
Music adds to the memorability power of a slogan
Rhyming gives a musical, singsong pattern to words. It’s not surprising that I can remember nearly all of the 50 songs that I used to perform with my soul and blues cover band. Song lyrics traditionally rhyme, especially in the classic R&B genre.
Seuss’s works themselves were adapted for the Broadway stage with “Seussical.” The musical is a regular selection for school productions around the country. Now that we’re talking about music—how much more memorable is a rhymed slogan set to a melody? And I’m not talking ripping a melody from a pop song. I’m talking an original jingle.
“Plop, plop, fizz, fizz, oh what a relief it is,” sang Alka Seltzer’s rhyming jingle in 1976. It even impressively increased sales due to the two tablets plopped into the glass instead of one as prescribed on the package.
“The best part of waking up, is Folgers in your cup.” Just try to say that in your mind without hearing the jingle. That melody is now probably stuck in your head. Hopefully, it’s the version sung by my idol Aretha Franklin, who elevated home-brewed coffee to soulful heights in 1990.
Challenges marketers face with every ad
Inspired by a challenge from the co-founder of Random House, Seuss wrote a children’s book with only 50 words and introduced a new age of reading education that was also fun. Green Eggs and Ham remains Seuss’s most successful book to date.
Marketers face language challenges every single time they attack a new campaign. How can we get the readability down to 8th grade? How can we make the copy fit into the size of the ad? What will make this slogan memorable?
Take another look at rhyming, alliteration, and repetition, and put these time-tested memory tools to work for your next product campaign. Need inspiration? Pull out Seuss’s Oh, the Places You’ll Go!, published shortly before his passing.