I saw a great headline on the Underground the other day:
“The Newspaper You Are Reading Is Rubbish”
Turned out it was a TFL (Transport For London) ad to encourage passengers to take their newspapers with them for recycling, or at least stop them clogging up the trains and platforms.
Unlike the vast majority of ad headlines, it got my attention and had me reading the short body copy beneath.
Plus it even raised a chuckle.
(And, if I’d had a paper with me at the time, you can bet I’d have been a good citizen and taken it with me. So the ad did its job…)
Of course, you could argue this ‘ad’ wasn’t even a real ‘ad’ per se – it wasn’t selling anything – but it was advertising an idea, and made a call to action, so in marketing terms, yeah, it’s an ad.
It got me thinking about copywriting headlines and how they work…
Impact Headlines: “Why You Cannot Afford To Skip This Next Paragraph…”
The TFL ad is a great example of an impact headline – one that aims to get your attention with a shock tactic, like turning a common idea on its head or saying something controversial.
Be careful with these though…
They’re a great way to get a reader’s attention, but too many ads don’t build on that…
They often drop the ball because the message they’re really trying to convey (buy this, or do that) either isn’t strong enough or doesn’t connect enough with the headline that earned them their audience.
I’m thinking here of headlines that set expectations the copy can’t meet… like ‘Free Money’ or ‘You Cannot Afford To Ignore This Ad’, stuff like that.
Common mistakes really.
In the first instance the ‘joke’ is to point out that “yep, haha, we got your attention – but there’s no free money”… and go on with the sales message from there. But if the copy or offer’s not strong enough to hold the attention that was won by the headline, the reader won’t stick with it.
And in the second instance, if the offer turns out to be something the reader really can afford to live without, then you’ve lost ’em too – so don’t make too bold a promise or your audience will just feel let down.
Remember: sales aren’t made through headlines alone.
Their importance lies in getting eyes on your page… and then your killer copy starts its job.
“Question Headlines: Are These Mistakes Costing You Revenue?”
Another way to draw a reader in is to get them to ask themselves a question, like the classic I’ve just appropriated above.
The key here is that once they’ve asked themselves that question, they need to know the answer. You’re appealing to a very human weakness, the desire for knowledge…
So, they read on – and if what you’re offering is the answer to the problem/question you set out, then you’ve got a good shot at getting them to take action…
Plus, in the subhead example above, the reader must ask themselves two questions: “What are the mistakes?” and also: “Am I making them?”
Which has double the curiosity value.
“Why Almost Every Great Ad Has A Great Headline”
A shocking stat marketers often quote is this:
In advertising, 80% of people will read a headline… but only 20% go on to read the copy underneath.
So they’re incredibly important in getting your message read. You cannot afford to lose 80% of your audience in the first few seconds of exposure to your ad…
But what makes a great headline?
Of course, like with all marketing, you must bear in mind who you’re marketing to.
Which is a whole other can of worms we’ll open another time (me, I like canned worms)…
In the next post we’ll look at other key types of headlines and find out why they work.
So what I want to know right now is:
“Which Copywriting Headline Types Do You Think Work Well, And Why?”
The comments box is open for business…