Don’t Bore Us, Get To The Chorus: Make Your Communications as Catchy as a Roxette Song

Hello, you fool. I love you. Come on join our monthly giving program.”

Okay. Maybe not quite. But stick with me on this one and I assure you we’ll have some fun.

Like it or hate it, Roxette writes really freakin’ catchy songs. I’m sure by the very mention of their name, you got one of their songs stuck in your head.  A lot of research has been done into the science of music, the psychology behind music and memory, and what makes a song so damn catchy. Likewise, in the field of communications (especially non-profit/fundraising communications), there is a lot to be said about what works, what doesn’t and why.

So bear with me as I take you on a bit of a joyride.

What makes a song catchy? There are many theories and a lot of science, but most of these theories have four basic commonalities:

Repetition   |   Familiarity   |   Inherent Simplicity   |    Uniqueness

So how do these theories mesh with our communications?

1) Repetition

How many times do you have to say thank you to a donor? How many direct mail impressions does it take to really get in the door?

“The brain remembers relentlessly repeated messages”

As the creator of a message, try to remember that you get bored of your own content much faster than your readers do.  You stare at your work day in and day out. But think of your own experiences with messages – ad campaigns seared into your memory, jingles that drill into your brain, or that Roxette song that asks you to join the joyride, you fool, over and over again.

Our brains love repetition. We seek patterns. Love repetition. Seek patterns. Love repetition. Seek patterns.

2) Familiarity

If you repeat something enough, it becomes familiar of course. But beyond this is the idea of making your reader feel at home within your communications. Great communications should be like your favourite pair of old jeans – it should just fit the reader. That doesn’t necessarily mean comfortable, or nice, or joy-inducing. But it shouldn’t be so foreign and off-putting that the reader pays more attention to the delivery of the message than the message itself. It can strike a sense of nostalgia, it can approach an issue in a way that speaks directly to the stakeholder (we do this when we segment our donors). Great design goes unnoticed while bad design makes us squeamish.

Much like familiar musical phrasing, (that is, groupings of melodic notes) we can craft our communicative melodies in ways that strike a chord with our stakeholders, like that jangly guitar riff that is both somehow new and old.

3) Inherent Simplicity

At some point, I’ll rant at you about using plain language, but for now just these pointers

Be direct

Say what you mean

Mean what you say

If someone struggles to understand your communications because you use ridiculously academic or unnecessarily complex language, or they need to dig incredibly deep to figure out what you are trying to tell them or ask them for, you’re doing it wrong. Don’t bore us, get to the chorus!

4) Uniqueness

Okay, so after all this talk of repetition, familiarity and simplicity, now you want us to be unique?

What is interesting about Roxette is that as much as they repeat themselves and rely on familiar musical phrasing, they are also introducing unique and memorable hooks that get stuck in our brains just as much as those repetitive choruses.




So what does this look like in terms of your communications? “It seems, finding a formula for “catchiness” is futile; instead, recognition is the key. If it’s going to spread and stick, a tune must first infect the songwriter.”

Great songs and great communications start with masterful writers. Study your craft. Practice those guitar riffs until you build up calluses. And don’t forget to throw in a key change now and then.

(Do you remember how excited you’d get for the key change?? Nobody writes ‘em like they used to, but that is another rant for another day)