Copywriting inspiration in the literary canon

A classics is something that everybody wants to have read and nobody want to read.

Mark Twain

Well, it may be so. But if you skip canonical authors you miss a big opportunity.

You can find inspiration everywhere you look. For selling strategies, you can study your own buying decisions

Oscar Wilde

Oscar Wilde was a master of words. He combined cynicism with fun so that the harshest truths of human existence make you laugh and weep at the same time. Consider his quotes about marriage:

„Are all men bad?” „Oh, all of them, my dear, all of them, without any exception. And they never grow any better. Men become old, but they never become good.“

If a woman wants to hold a man, she has merrily to appeal to what is worst in him.

The proper basis for marriage is mutual misunderstanding.

These quotes are cruel and cynical. And do they make you fear marriage? No. They make you curious, to say the least. This is a skill you should learn as a marketer. To make fun of your product, yourself, and life. And stay honest at the same time.

Read Oscar Wilde and write down what you read. Focus on the way he uses words.

Oscar Wilde on Amazon

Then there is this stunning book.

Peter Ackroyd: The Last Testament of Oscar Wilde

It is a work of a genius who mimics another genius. If you want to be a better copywriter and aspire to be a ghostwriter (there is a piece of ghostwriting in every copywriting job), you need to learn how to pretend to be someone else. Peter Ackroyd writes in the first person and uses Oscar Wilde´s language as if he had brought the great Irishman back from the grave.

Buy the book

Chinua Achebe – Things Fall Apart

Things Fall Apart is a part of the post-colonial canon. People around the world read the book to learn how middle-African people thought and lived before the colonists came. It is also a profound story about a man so rooted in tradition that he refuses to change even as the old world is falling apart around him.

It is also a book that teaches how ordinary things can become magical when seen through someone else´s eyes. The world of Chinua Achebe is more magical and more fantastic than any fantasy book filled with dragons and krakens. But this world truly exists. In some other parts of the world, yes, but it is still our world and our planet. All it takes to make our world magical is to use proper words. Isn´t that what we do as copywriters when we describe seemingly mundane products in a magical way?

Buy on Amazon

William Blake – Proverbs of Hell

As a copywriter, you want to write catchy taglines and great slogans. Look to poetry for inspiration. William Blake wrote in the 18th century. And yet, his work is full of taglines.

See for yourselves:

Expect poison from the standing water.

He whose face gives no light shall never be a star.

No bird soars too high if he soars with his own wings.

You never know what is enough unless you know what is more than enough.

A busy bee has no time for sorrow.

William Blake

One sentence is all Blake needs to grab your attention.

And how exactly does he do that?

  1. He takes a cliché or a traditional proverb (something everybody knows,) turns it around and makes it more profound and surprising.
  2. He uses contrast and contradiction and makes you think.
  3. He keeps it short.
  4. He uses rhythm. William Blake was a master of rhythm.

Consider his poem Tyger.

These are all great ways to write the most excellent tagline of all time. Study old poets; they have much to say.

Read on Gutenber

Edgar Alan Poe: The Raven

Why was Poe´s Raven such a masterpiece? Was it the dark romantic atmosphere? No, Poe was known for making fun of romantic poets.

But what makes his most famous poem part of all literary schoolbooks is the way he uses sound. If you want people to recite your taglines and remember your sentences, you want them to love how your writing sounds. Read your writing aloud. Work with individual sounds, intonation, and rhythm.

If you want your writing to convert, you want your readers to feel happy and optimistic about the product. Your copy wants to sound pleasing. Read Poe´s Raven and study how he plays with syllables, letters, words, or whole lines.

Read the poem

Are there any other works of literary art that you find inspiring? I am sure there are many more pieces that improve your copywriting skills. Every page you read can be a source of inspiration. But some books teach you more than others. 

In my free e-book you will find even more inspiration from the unexpected sources.

Did you like the article? Share it with anyone who can benefit from it.


free e-book and newsletter

Sign up for a free newsletter, and a free e-book on the Greatest Marketing Quotes of All Time will come into your inbox.