Advertising Headlines and How to Write Them

1. Attract prospects with your headline
Use your headline as a flag to attract readers who are interested in your product. If you are selling a solution to premature hair loss, put PREMATURE HAIR LOSS in your headline. Your headline will catch the eye of everyone who suffers from this predicament. If you want teenagers to read your ad, put TEENAGERS in your ad. Be careful that you do not put anything in your ad that excludes prospects. For example, if you are selling a cellular phone that can be used by men and women alike, do not slant your headline toward men alone. That will only cause women to think that your ad does not apply to them.

2. Appeal to your reader's self-interest with your headline
Make every headline you write appeal to the interests of your prospect and not those of the company that is selling the product. Instead of saying SPIRITOL WILL CURE YOUR HEADACHE, say GOT A HEADACHE? CURE IT WITH SPIRITOL. Begin your headlines with YOU rather than WE.

3. Sell your product in your headline
David Ogilvy, an advertising pioneer of the 1960s and 1970s says that, on average, five times as many people read your headline as read your copy. So it follows that unless your headline sells your product, you have wasted 90% of your money. So your headline should do some selling whenever possible.

4. Include your selling promise in your headline
The best headlines promise readers a benefit, such as fewer cavities, cheaper gas, whiter clothes. Your selling promise is simply the greatest benefit that you are advertising about your product, so include it in your headline. This often makes for headlines of at least 12 words. People read long headlines as long as they (1) promise a benefit, (2) complement an intriguing visual, and (3) are part of an attractive ad design. Don't shy away from long headlines. A headline is too long only when it uses one word more than is needed to sell its message.

5. Name what you are advertising in your headline
If the headline is all that your prospects read, then at least tell them the name of what you are selling. If the name sticks, your ad will have at least made your readers familiar with your product. And that is a vital role in advertising - keeping your product's name at the top of the consumer's mind.

6. Avoid award-winning cleverness in your headlines
Puns and literary allusions may be clever (to you) but they don't necessarily sell your product. In the average newspaper, your headline competes with 350 others for your reader's attention. Readers skim fast through these headlines. And readers do not stop long to decipher obscure headlines. Clever headlines, while they may win awards at advertising galas, often serve to draw attention to themselves and away from the product. Don't write clever headlines just for the sake of it.

7. Say things in the positive in headlines
Avoid negatives in your headlines for two reasons. First of all, negative statements leave a negative impression, while positive statements leave a positive impression. SPRINTAB CURES YOUR HEADACHE is a positive way of saying SPRINTAB WILL NOT LET YOUR HEADACHE STAY FOR LONG. Stick with the positive.

Secondly, statements phrased in a negative way often mislead readers. They think your negative way of phrasing a positive thing says the opposite of what it actually says. Thus, some readers will see the headline OUR BEEF CONTAINS NO ADDITIVES, but will mistake it to have said OUR BEEF CONTAINS ADDITIVES. This headline is better re-written as OUR BEEF IS 100% PURE.

8. Avoid "IF" headlines
Be declarative in your headlines. Avoid conditional phrases, such as IF YOU BUY THIS LAMP, YOU'LL SAVE MONEY ON YOUR ELECTRIC BILL, and IF YOU NEED A PLUMBER, CALL JOE'S PLUMBING. Conditional phrases drain the power from your headlines.

You are better off: (1) putting the prospect right into your headlines, (2) assuming that your prospect has the need that you are addressing and (3) speaking as though the prospect is already satisfied with your product. For example: WATCH YOUR ELECTRIC BILL SHRINK WITH THIS ELECTRIC LAMP, or "JOE'S PLUMBING SAVED MY HOUSE FROM FLOODING."

9. Say things in the present tense in your headlines
Put vigour and drama into your headlines by saying things in the present tense instead of in the past or future tense. The present tense is stronger and more immediate than the past tense: "I SAVED $1,000 WITH MY MIDLAND BANK MORTGAGE" is weaker than "I AM SAVING $1,000 WITH MY MIDLAND BANK MORTGAGE."

The present tense is stronger than the future tense: T.E.S.T. COMPUTERS WILL MAKE YOU MORE PRODUCTIVE is weaker than T.E.S.T. COMPUTERS MAKE YOU MORE PRODUCTIVE.

10. Make headlines work with the visual, not the body copy
Make your headline tell one part of the story and have your visual tell the other part. Don't use a headline to repeat what the visual is saying. And don't simply illustrate the headline. Let the headline and the visual work together. Avoid blind headlines that make no sense unless the reader reads the body copy underneath them. The majority of readers only read headlines, so you must write headlines that are complete in themselves.

Alan is a business-to-business direct mail copywriter and lead generation consultant. As President of Sharpe Copy Inc. (http://www.sharpecopy.com), Alan specializes in helping businesses generate leads, close sales and retain customers, using cost-effective, compelling direct mail and email marketing. Alan also uses his direct mail advertising services to help charities raise funds and raise awareness of their causes, using fundraising letters.

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