Headlines, their use in advertising, marketing communications: online and traditional

A headline is important in marketing communicationsOK, I know that at JG Marketing, we’re now more web- and digital-centric, as I harped on a recent blog post, but I still receive trade mags and still lament the lack of serious thought into the design and creative process involved in their creation.

Let’s go to one of my pet peeves, the headline or lack of it. And, nothing much seems to have changed since my last post on this topic. In fact, it seems to have worsened.

Have your ever considered that just about any sales message, whether in print or on-line needs a headline–a good one? Even your website has a tagline or some line that stands out to invite a viewer to the site.

Let’s face it, the headline of your sales message is what pulls a reader or visitor to your website. In a previous post, I noted that it would responsible for up to 80% of the response from that sales message. So, in effect, the success or failure of most marketing communications rests very much on the power of your headline.

In a print advertisement, 10-20% of your prospective readers will read your ad. That’s it. So, if you have a so-so headline, you can lose pretty much all the prospective readers of your ad.

Allow me to quote David Ogilvy [Confessions of an Advertising Man] on headlines:

The headline is the most important element in most advertisements. It is the telegram which decides the reader whether to read the copy. On average, five times as many people read the headline as read the body copy, When you have written your headline, you have spent eighty cents out of your dollar. If you haven’t done some selling in your headling, you have wasted 80% of your client’s money.

Ok, so to capture your prospective reader, you need to grab him/her with a good, punchy headline. (And, here I must posit that your company tagline, position statement or something to the effect that you are the best, or have the best xxxx product out there are not examples of a good headline. Neither is your logo, no matter how nice this may look.)

As covered earlier and again here, a headline is just so important. Even poorly written ads have been successful because of the overwhelming power of a good headline. Your prospects will decide whether to read your sales message in only two or three seconds. That is all the time they will give you to scan your headline. Really, you and I are no different.

We do not READ a newspaper, we SCAN the headlines – article headlines and ad headlines. We are looking for only for what interests us at the moment we read. Note that this is the same for print newspapers or those on a subscription that is read on a tablet, Kindle, smartphone or laptop. And, in B2B or B2C publications like magazines, this applies as well. Unless the trade magazine is on a field or topic of strong personal interest, I would say that you would just flip the pages and do as you would a newspaper. You would only really read something whose headline attracted you. Likewise, for mags read on electronic platforms.

A headline comprises the first words at the top of a newspaper ad. It is the title of your article, the subject line of your email or letter, or the top of your web page.

Some quick pointers:

Make sure that your headline is the first group of words that your reader sees. Make this stand out and please don’t bury them in the advertisement. Ads that go against this point put their logo on the top, where the headline should be. If you just want to get subliminal messages through, without trying to get your reader to go through the body copy, this might work. Otherwise, it’s a complete waste of time.

The headline should grab the reader’s attention. This should pull in the reader with some sort of promise. Once, you have the reader’s attention, his/her eyes will be pulled down through the body copy and on to your logo, as part of your signature, normally found on the bottom of the page. Thus, we try to pull the reader’s eyes from the top to the bottom, usually the bottom right, while passing through the body copy.

Remember that of the readers who will see your ad, interest about your message will be from 5-20% of the readers. If you miss out on these readers, you’ve just done your money on an ad that got nowhere. Refer Ogilvy’s thoughts, noted earlier.

The headline should not only have a promise, it should be catchy and noticeable. Some headlines just describe the product that’s advertising and that’s it. Ho-hum. “10 kg gizmo”. So, what’s the promise. Mind you if someone is looking for a 10 kg gizmo, this could be enough to pull him/her through the body copy.

Now, why not something like “You can improve productivity by 50% with our 10 kg gizmo”, or, “How you can save a lot of money with our 10 kg gizmo”.  You can see what I am getting at, right?

Or, to be slightly different throw a question in. “So, all widgets only do XXXX, did you realize that our widget does double that?”. Or, something along that vein. Here, we not only create curiosity but also put up a perceived benefit for the reader. After all, there has to be something in it for the reader. Yes, the old, “what’s in it for me” certainly holds for this exercise.

Note the use of the word “you” in above headlines, making the appeal directly to the reader. Also note the appeal to the hip pocket nerve, to get the reader’s curiosity going.

As noted copywriter, John Caples, once wrote: “The best headlines appeal to people’s self interest or give news.” The old what’s in it for me is alive and well. Or, if you put up something new, you can hook the reader or viewer to keep reading the page. Not rocket science, is it?

Let’ not forget that we will not interest all readers, only the 10-20% who may be in the market for a 1-tonne widget. And, since the reader’s curiosity is piqued, he/she will read on. If you lose the reader at this stage, and he/she will go no further. He/she would just flip the page and keep flipping till he/she reaches something of interest.

Note also that some trigger words like new, free, how to and so on will also make your headline more noticeable.

So, some careful thought should always be put in a headline. It’s not that hard, just make this top of mind, when designing your ad. I’m sure that you will be rewarded for the effort. Or, it’s just too hard, why not contact us at JG Marketing.

Until my next post.

Blogging, social media and negative feedback
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