Don Draper meets Dr. Seuss
As most of you, as a kid I was a Dr. Seuss fan.
Unlike most of you, I continued to not only be a Dr. Seuss fan as an adult — but look back on the old “children’s books” that Theodor Seuss Geisel wrote and see lessons for grown-ups.
As a child Green Eggs and Ham was a book about trying new things. Mothers often referred to it when one of her children were reluctant to try a brussel sprout for the first time, but as an adult I have seen the book referenced as a lesson in tenacity and optimism for sales professionals.
Sam-I-Am never took “no” for an answer and kept happily pitching his prospect a variety of value-added options until he got him happily involved in that tasty platter of emerald edibles.
Another work that taught an entirely different lesson, and a book that I am discovering to be lesser known among my peers is The Sneeches. Ostensibly, the lesson for children to learn in this (very) short tale is one of inclusion. The story is essentially a satirical caste war between large, yellow, beach-dwelling creatures called Sneetches.
Some Sneetches have bellies with stars and some Sneetches have none upon thars — and therein lies the conflict.
A travelling “fix-it-up chappie” named Sylvester McMonkey McBean drops in with a machine that has the power to add stars to the bellies of blank-bellied Sneetches allowing them to fit in with the snobby naturally-star-adorned Sneetches. The original starred Sneetches then have their stars removed to keep the separation of classes going, now proclaiming star-free bellies the best sort of Sneetches. A cycle of starring and de-starring of bellies then ensues.
Seuss wrote the story with the intent to point out the ridiculousness of discrimination between races and cultures, inspired by his own opposition to antisemitism. The book was even translated by NATO into Serbo-Croatian and distributed to a half-million children in Bosnia as a campaign to help encourage racial tolerance.
The Sneeches story is certainly still poignant in regard to its original intent when looked at through adult eyes, but as a marketing professional I also see a lesson in advertising and commercialism.
When the fix-it-up chappie Sylvester McMonkey McBean arrives on the scene, he promises to solve everyone’s problems by adding a star to their bellies for just three dollars each. See? Your problem isn’t so difficult that simply spending a little money on it can’t fix it!
When the Sneetches with the original belly-stars complain that now everyone has them, Sylvester jumps right in and lets this group know that their problem can be solved by removing their stars — for just TEN dollars each (apparently the removal process is a tad more expensive!)
How ironic that the fix-it-up chappie who can solve all the Sneeches’ problems has two surnames featuring the prefix “Mc”.
Commercialism and conspiracy theories combine and compound with what can be seemingly connected to a brand like McDonald’s. Is it coincidence that Geisel published his Sneeches book in 1961 — the same year McDonald’s files for both a trademark on their name and later in the same year for the overlapping double-arched “M” symbol as their logo?
Double-M… McMonkey and McBean
Fast forward a few decades and Dr. Seuss might have replaced Sylvester’s green bowler hat and bowtie with a black turtleneck and blue jeans a la Steve Jobs. I see those constantly updated belly-stars as “iStars” — consumers who buy iPads and iPhones and iPods with an almost religious passion are constantly updating devices to make sure they have the newest and latest, the coolest and greatest iStar hanging from a belt clip around their bellies.
Sylvester MacMonkey MacBean
During a recent trip to San Diego I had the opportunity to not only see some of Dr. Seuss’ original drawings at the Geisel Library, but to also visit a gallery showing some of his original work along with limited edition prints. Featured among the prints available was one of the Sneetches taking their first trip through the star-adding machine — with Sylvester McMonkey McBean front and center directing the Sneetches toward the entrance of the machine while standing in front of a table piled high with money.
I bought a copy of that print and it now hangs in my office at Remerge Marketing to serve as a reminder to me and my clients to stay away from the dark side of advertising and marketing — selling something no one really needs and no one really wants — simply because you can fool the audience into thinking it will make their lives better because it’s shiny.
…like a star.
Click here to watch the animated version of The Sneetches by Dr. Seuss.
If you’d like your own copy of this print or some other work by Dr. Seuss please contact my friend Kelly Maginnis at Legends Gallery of La Jolla