Image: The Wall of Mirrors by Claire Downey
Lessons from Grover in The Monster at the End of This Book
When my daughters were young, we’d pile into the navy blue Honda Accord (a boxlike-design model year) and go to the public library every week for story hour. We’d check out dozens of books and scoop them up into our totes.
I was doing a weight-lifting regimen back then: hauling book totes and childcare bags, and lifting children in and out of car seats, high chairs, bathtubs, tricycles. I swear I had Michelle Obama biceps and triceps. At least back then.
On some occasions, the books they chose as their favorites would be mine too. Such as this one:
When I needed to find a book for a toddler gift recently, I knew which one to choose. Before I wrapped it, I handed the book over to my teenager. She smiled and said, “Oh, I remember this book.” And we read aloud, “So please don’t turn the page.”
And, of course, we turned the page.
Jon wrote a classic children’s book featuring Grover. It’s not only funny and entertaining, but also steeped in persuasion. You can apply his techniques to update your marketing messages. Here are three principles of persuasion he used:
1) Keep an open loop
Why do a few books earn the distinction of a real page turner? A book gets this title when the reader exclaims, “I stayed up all night reading it. I couldn’t put it down.” A book that’s piqued our interest and engages us. We are wrapped up in the characters and their experiences. Who can think of anything else?
The book is occupying our mind because the author created an “open loop.” And there’s science behind this technique. This concept is called the Ziegarnik Effect, named after researcher Bluma Ziegarnik.
She first noticed this human behavior at a busy Berlin beer garden. She researched how an excellent waiter could remember orders from a large group of diners. He’d ask for the patrons’ orders, write nothing down, and return 20 minutes later placing the food and drinks correctly in front of them. Shortly after, when he was asked to recall what each person ordered, he couldn’t remember.
Ziegarnik and her colleagues investigated. By performing experiments, they learned when the waiter placed the last dish at the table, his task of service was done, thus his attention was focused on the other open orders. It seems unfinished tasks are more memorable, ruminating in our brains until they’re completed.
So Stone uses this device perfectly in the book. As readers, we can’t put the book down until we find out what happens. We can’t get distracted before we observe how Grover does / does not cope while we turn the page.
The concept works for complex processes and boring products. Think about the annoying problems your products and services solve. Your reader would love to resolve the problem. What is he missing to do this? He’ll pay attention if the problem is bothering him.
2) Present a puzzle for your reader to solve
Your core audience has a big desire. He may or may not know the answer to his need, but he’s on a path to fulfill it. His lack of resolution is a gap. A copywriter’s responsibility is to fill-in the gap.
Copywriting guides people along their journey-path. The path you want them to take? Well, you can’t force action. So copywriting skills and techniques help you direct your core audience to get answers. And if people get confused, they’ll stop and close the book. Or close the tab on the screen and search elsewhere.
But how do you make them want to move forward on the journey?
Robert Cialdini talks about how “a special kind of unfinished story: a mystery” is effective in motivating readers to keep reading.
“One reason the technique is so effective: it grabs readers by the collar and pulls them into the material.” Robert Cialdini, Pre-Suasion: A Revolutionary Way to Influence and Persuade
What monster will be at the end of the book? Grover is encouraging parents and children to continue reading to find out.
“The more you entice with mystery, the more your audience will stick it out.” Sam Woods, copywriter
Is creating suspense hard? Well, you don’t need to be a mystery novelist to try. The upside is your core audience is not an expert on every aspect of your products and services. Tapping into topics they’re interested in is a good start.
Why is your company different than another company? Convey the difference by telling a story.
Grover appears to be thwarting the reader’s journey, but the result is the opposite. The barriers he tries – rope, nailed wood, and brick walls – only makes the reader more curious.
2) Draw out the emotional appeal
Grover is so relatable because he identifies with the emotions of the reader: fear, anger, exasperation, joy, relief, and, my favorite one showing vulnerability: embarrassment.
The feeling of cleverness and fun as I reject the obstacles he puts in my way. Wheee!!
Or as author, David Burr Gerrard, says, “Like most children’s stories, it builds up a child’s sense of personal power (“Did you know that you are very strong?”), but in a dark way…”
For me, throughout the book, I’m interacting with the main character. What I do affects Grover’s emotions. Influences my emotions. Hey, I think I’m smiling. And during these past 10 months, I’d pay good money for more smiling – of myself and my household. Yes, Bartender, smiles all around, please.
Many readers on Gerrard’s blog post share why this is one of their favorites. As one comments,
“I still have my copy. It’s about 30 years old. Still has the 69c (cent) price sticker on it. I loved this book and now I read it to my 6 year old daughter.”
The book is clever in other ways. There’s personalization. For example, you can have a book customized so Grover is speaking to your child by name.
And the earlier version had personalization that warms my copywriter’s heart. I remember when I read the book to my daughter years ago. At the end of the book, the foil mirror reflected our faces. Turns out, the monster was us.