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13 Platinum Ideas for Better Advertising Headlines
By Ray Jutkins   Printer Friendly Version

Headlines in ads, like teaser copy on envelopes and running heads for direct mail letters, grab attention.

Or, that is what they are suppose to do - pull a reader in.

Research tells us that less than 1 of 5 readers (17 / 100) read on from the headline. Which demonstrates the power of the few words in a headline - in newspapers and magazines, brochures and other literature - and the World Wide Web.

Here is The Baker's Dozen Collection of ideas that make headlines for Direct Marketing advertising work. Based on "live" experiences.

And thoughts from a handful of pros in the business ... Tom Collins ... Axel Anderson ... Ted Nicholas ... David Ogilvy ... John Caples.

1. AIM your message and promise to your "select" primary audience

AIM is an acronym. A = Aim ... I = Intent ... M = Move.

Aim speaks of targeting. Selecting the right audience for your message. Those key few who can buy what you sell.

Intent talks of setting the tone for your message and your offer. Using the right words, graphics, layout, design to share your story - to demonstrate your benefits.

Move means your targeted audience takes a step, "moves" toward action, toward you. They do something, they respond.

Your headline must distinguish between "prime prospects" and "mild prospects". Many will see your words - only a few are truly "prime". Fewer yet are ready to take action at this time. Don't be too "loose" in determining who your prospect is - and write to that specific person.

2. Include your #1 benefit in your headline

Marketing, Direct Marketing and Sales Promotion are responsible for generating "action". Your headline is the beginning, the first pass, the first swing, toward creating that response.

And "what" you say is far more important than how you say it in your headline. So, communicate your strongest benefit. Tell the reader how they will gain by doing business with you. Sometimes titled WII-FM ... What's In It For Me.

And do it quickly.

When you get further into the copy - beginning with the sub-head, you share immediate or obvious benefits. And also the not so obvious, ultimate, longer-range advantages of doing business with you. Begin your headline by establishing quickly the uniqueness of your product or service. Your PoD - Point of Difference.

3. "Reach" for a need, a want, a desire ... a daydream even

As shared in #2., your headline must appeal to the readers interest. The WII-FM factor.

Everyone makes buying decisions based on need. It might be logical, rational. It could be emotional, with feeling. Yet, if you cannot show a true need, the buyer will move on.

Still, we all know many times a want, a desire - even a daydream - comes before the need is obvious. One way to move the want or desire to the "need" level is to enhance what you are offering.

Suggest there is a way for the reader to fulfill a need they have. And the benefits in doing so. What they will earn, save, gain, make. Which, for instance, could be money or time. Or how they will feel or look better. Anything that appeals to self-interest.

This approach works for both business and consumer products.

4. Draw your reader through your headline to your sub-head and first paragraph of copy

This is the so-called classic Direct Marketing copy "action" path:

  • Define the Problem or Opportunity,
  • Promise the Answer or Solution,
  • Explain the Promise, the Fulfillment,
  • Prove you can do what you say,
  • Ask for Action, a Response.

Your headline begins this process.

One way to begin is with the use of testimonials. Always powerful in marketing - especially powerful in your headline. Because they are so believable, when you start with a testimonial, you are saying I do what I say I do. Here is the promise, here is the proof.

This approach is sometimes saved for your sub-head.

If you can get your reader through your head, next your sub-head, you will get them into your opening paragraph.

5. When you use a "question" headline, make certain it has the best possible chance of giving you ONLY the answer you want to hear.

I like question headlines.

Yet, they are dangerous. Because they can turn a reader off before they get to your offer, your message. If any answer other than the "right" answer is possible, do not use a question headline.

A question in a headline must also offer a genuine "bite" to your primary reader. And more, much more, than merely curiosity.

It must be stated in such a way that the best answer is "Yes, I like what I read - I will read on. I will respond." Any other answer ... especially "no", is unacceptable.

6. When you use a "command" headline, make certain your direction is complete

Any time you are telling, or "commanding", someone to take action in your favor, you are opening the door for a negative response.

Still, giving specific direction ... do this and that will happen to your benefit ... is a good way to grab and pull a reader into your message.

Avoid headlines that paint a negative side of the picture.

Here is another place where testimonials can be effective. Someone telling their story of doing what you say, and winning.

7. When you use a "how to ..." headline make certain you complete the thought with "how" your product solves the reader's problem.

The most effective headlines give news or appeal to the reader's self-interest. They get to the point immediately.

If you have "news", get it into the headline.

Key words for news type headlines include . . .

  • ANNOUNCING
  • NOW
  • NEW
  • AT LAST

If you have a self-help message, get it into the headline.

Some key words for self-interest headlines are . . .

  • HOW TO
  • WHICH
  • HOW
  • WANTED
  • WHY

Yes, headlines are the "tease". Their purpose is to get the readers attention. And then pull them into the story, the message. When they are "how to..." you must complete the thought. Quickly. If not, the reader will move on.

Use "key words" in your headline. And complete your thought with your sub-head and first paragraph.

8. You may change your headline when you change your medium

When you move from a cooking magazine to the home buyer pages of a newspaper, you may need to change your words.

When you go from a general weekly business news publication to a highly selected target audience newsletter, you may need to change your words.

Even thou your product / service is the same, how you reach your audience may be different.

Why? Because your reader is in a "different" mood when they receive your message. In one case it is highly focused, directional, specific, concentrated, with a thinking, rational mind. In the other it is loose, easy, relaxed, emotional, with touch and feeling.

"Home" products we use in business - "Business" products we use at home - cross these lines. An example is E-mail.

What you say is more important than how you say it. - Still, what you say WHERE is even more important.

9. Graphics should make your copy more readable, more understandable. Period!

In response marketing, Direct Marketing, a picture is NOT worth a 1000 words. Ever!

The purpose of graphics is to first gain attention. Then provide visual reinforcement. To support the copy. To make it more readable, more understandable.

Black/White vs. 2-Color vs. 4-Color will always be debatable. We do live in a color world. No doubt about that. I have a pair of granddaughters who do not know black & white ever existed. So, color is almost always better - to get attention. The issue becomes whether or not it is cost effective. Which is another issue entirely.

Illustrations, graphics, the art of your marketing message is there to support the copy. Which includes making the headline more powerful, more responsive.

10. Headlines can be as long as 17 words

Long copy sells more than short copy.

And the idea is a "sale". Maybe not a mail-order sale ... it could be a lead or traffic for a store, restaurant, trade show. "Action" is what you are looking for. And long sells more than short.

Some say a short - up to 5 words - headline, followed by a long ... up to a 17 word descriptive sub-head ... is better. Fine. Test and learn what works best for you.

Do not get hung up with short or long. That is NOT the issue. The issue IS simply "interesting" to your reader, or not. Long headlines that say something are more effective than short headlines that say nothing.

11. Headlines need to stand alone ...not be broken by illustrations

Desktop publishing specifically and computers generally have made it easy to screw-up a good response ad.

Because they allow mixing and matching unreadable and sans-serif typefaces, laying copy on top of pictures, using light or faded text, reverse type ... all for visual affect.

A headline in a Direct Response ad must stand alone. A graphic may be to the right (since most languages read left to right, you want to read the copy first), or underneath it.

Specifics are more believable than generalities. Copy provides the specifics. Illustrations, the graphics, the art, support the copy, support message specifics.

12. The key to success lies in testing

Write a lot of headlines and then select the best one.

Avoid clever headlines. Yes, sometimes "funny" does get attention. Yet, what makes one smile or laugh puts a frown on another.

Avoid meaningless headlines. Double meaning or "cute" rarely works. Yes, it gets attention - and then nothing!

Avoid "dead" headlines. Headlines that lead nowhere. Although the message begins with the opening words, for you to be successful the reader must dig into the body copy. At least somewhat.

Testing is a way to constantly improve. My theory is "If it ain't broke, fix it." Not being negative - being real. For if it ain't broke today, it soon will be.

And, there are no Failures...only Lessons! No matter what happens, you will learn something. So test.

13. "The wickedest of all sins is to run an advertisement without a headline." David Ogilvy

Amen. AMEN!

The headline is the most important element in direct response advertisements. A headline gets attention - it acts as a marque. It begins your message. If it doesn't work, your full ad will not work.

In summary, this is what a good Direct Marketing headline offers; * The writing is simple - using the KISS theory ... Keep It Simple, Stupid

  • Illustrations showing the product in use or reward for use, are best to support the simple copy message
  • Copy is still "King" - Graphics support text
  • Including testimonials increases response
  • A straightforward message outpulls "cute"
  • Avoid humor. You can entertain a million and not sell one of them!
  • Telling your reader exactly what you want them to do, what, when, where and how to do it, and the benefits for action now will give you the highest opportunity for maximum success.

13 Platinum ideas to make your Direct Marketing headlines work better. Try 'em.


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