Excerpt from HIGH IMPACT
FROM CHAPTER 5: The Power of Headlines.
The Importance of the Headline
The role of the headline and picture in an ad is the same as the carnival barker we discussed above -they stimulate the readers’ wish for some feeling and promise fulfillment. It doesn’t have to be an exotic wish; it can be as prosaic as plumbing. For example, one effective ad began with the headline “Revolutionary New Drain Opener Invented; Unclogs Drains in 1 Second.” Since nearly everyone in the product’s target market has struggled with a balky drain, the promise of a way to simply unclog a drain will grab attention.
Question: Is the customer buying a drain unclogger? No, he is not. He’s buying a smoothly operating plumbing system, time, reduction of frustration, reduction of fear (about the toilet overflowing), and a feeling of pride that he can get his ”Honey Do” list around the house done properly. Do you see the basic pitch for the drain cleaner is no different than the barker’s pitch for the Giant Rat of Sumatra? You give us your money, and we’ll make you feel the emotions you want.
The consumer is buying deferred satisfaction -- he won’t feel the full reward for his foresight
until the drain is unclogged.
In these, and hundreds of other cases, people are not really buying products, they are buying emotions -- they desire to feel satisfaction, pride, hope, fear, excitement, amazement, love, security, and so on. The product (or service) is just a springboard to create the emotions they want.
To sell them your product, you must first know what the Satisfactions they really want to buy.
Advertising often goes astray when the seller doesn’t recognize what the buyer really wants. For example, how much perfume would a new fragrance sell if its ads emphasized the no-clog spray head, the easy-grip shape, and the shatterproof bottle?
Not much. Women don’t buy perfume for functional reasons. They don’t really buy perfume at all. They buy the feeling of femininity it give them, the feeling of desirability which they see in men’s faces, the chance for an ideal romance or the rekindling of a marriage, the possibility of meeting the guy of their dreams. And every perfume maker knows it. It is the quintessential example of “selling the sizzle, not the steak.”
The Power of the Headline
How important are headlines for the professional ad man? Quoting Claude Hopkins again, "It is not uncommon for a change in headlines to multiply returns from five to ten times over." Imagine that power packed inside a simple headline. The success of failure of a business can easily turn on the impact of a headline.
If print ads, especially the headlines, were wired for sound, each ad would be shouting, “Hey! Over here. Read me. Look here!” That, in essence is the sort of mental tug which ads create in the minds of readers. Think of an ad this way: basically, you are asking your reader, "Excuse me, but could I have a minute of your valuable time? I think you'll like what I'm selling." It is usually the headline or the picture which determines whether they decide to give you their time, or not. In most cases, it’s “not.”
“Lack of Time” regularly tops the list of problems for modern Americans, especially women. Asking for even a few seconds is serious business. Just think how important a few seconds or a few minutes suddenly seem to you when you receive a call from a
Your readers have a similar reaction when browsing through a magazine or newspaper. Your headline helps readers to decide, “OK, I’ll give them a few seconds.”
Why do readers make that choice? Because your headline or picture makes them think they will get something in return -- a few seconds of time in exchange for new information, emotional stimulation, something free, etc. Constructing a headline which helps them make the choice to stop is a not a simple matter. It is rooted in the psychological makeup of your target readers. Remember -- Don’t write it from inside your head. Write it from inside your reader’s mind.
Here are some ideas about how to create a headline that stops traffic. Use these ideas as a way to excite your imagination, as guideposts to evaluate headlines you create, and as a repair manual to fix headlines that don’t work. In all cases, use your common sense. Use the ones that apply, ignore the others.
1) Make it short. Notice when you read a newspaper that you often purposely avoid looking at the ads. You’ll look at even the smallest story about a chimpanzee driving a jeep in Sierra Leone, but you won’t look at a half page ad for a clothing sale at the Dillards down the street! By any measure, the sale has more potential impact on your life than the African chimp, but you read the jeep story anyway. Why? Because the news story doesn’t DEMAND your time; it isn’t trying to sell you something. It doesn’t require that you make any mental decisions about the products. And it offers the slightest hope of something interesting, odd, revealing or useful.
Readers of your advertisements indulge you by giving you their time, so you should make it as simple for them to understand your message as possible and still make your point. Remember that they have visually “stopped in” to give you a glance through your shop’s doorway. It’s your responsibility to draw them over the threshold with your headline, while not wasting their time if they are not a candidate.
A short headline is generally easier to read and understand, so readers prefer it. A headline like “Pepsi Hits The Spot" is faster for a reader to mentally process and understand than one like, "Pepsi is Very Refreshing When You Are Really Thirsty."
Short headlines are generally also easier to remember. Many readers will just glance at the headline. Short, memorable headlines which contain the brand’s name help reinforce reader’s existing memory trace for the brand and its general image (“Canon Can Do.”) Headline branding is a good way to get something extra out of your ad dollars. Famed ad man David Ogilvy preached the doctrine of having the brand name in the headline for just this reason. (But some of Ogilvy’s headlines were far from short, as you’ll see later on.)
Some effective, short headlines include the famous “Lemon” and “Think Small” in different Volkswagen ads, “Health Nut” for Sunkist orange juice, and “Good and Cheap” for a chain of discount stores. Exotic places can simply use their name to provoke images of romance and adventure: “Hawaii,” “Paris,” or “Rio.” Places without an exotic image can’t benefit from this technique. “Kansas City” doesn’t create the same aura. But it can still be effective by using a short heading that plays off the image it does have. “Kansas CITY?”
A single word headline can sometimes be useful for another reason. The oddity of a single word can stop readers cold if it creates a question in their minds. For example, Seach ad in a series of negative political ads highlighting the poor record of one candidate began with one word, such as “Oops!” “Oh-Oh!” “Ouch!”, etc. The big, bold headlines created eye-stopping appeal, generated reader comment and anticipation of the next ad, while providing a little humor to a dull subject.
Don’t use a short headline just because it is short. Remember, your headline must pull the reader across the threshold and into your ad. The fact that your headline is short won’t do the trick by itself, but it can help.
2) Create a mental image. Some words (called "concrete" words) create a mental picture (image) when we hear or read them. For example, "Hammer," or "Flower." Other words don't generally create an image. They are called "abstract" words, like "freedom," "pleasure," and "caring."
We remember pictures far better than words, so it makes sense (supported by years of research) that words which create mental pictures in the reader’s mind will be understood and recalled better than words which do not.
For example, a cosmetic ad had this headline, "See your mother on weekends. Not every time you look in the mirror." This headline created a strong mental image, raised a fear and promised to satisfy it -- the essence of a good headline.
The best mental images are those which are already rich in associations in our minds. For example, “Apple Pie” has more and richer associations for most people than “rhubarb pie” because nearly everyone has seen, smelled, and eaten apple pie for decades in all sorts of settings, while few people could even tell you what a rhubarb looks like, much less what a pie tastes like.
Headlines like “Better than Home Cookin’,” or “Glade Puts a Rose Garden in Your Bathroom” tap into different kinds of rich memories most readers have to create a picture inside their heads. By associating that picture with your product, you increase the chance that readers will recall your brand in a positive way.
3) Use a strong word. Short, emotion-packed words in bold letters grab attention. It's often best to use them alone. For example, a headline may say "Pain" or "Sex." A financial seminar was advertised with the simple, catchy headline “Bankrupt.” The word should be short, often used (for familiarity), and laden with emotions. Just a glance at such words will often trigger an emotional response -- and that is often enough to hook the reader. Of course, the headline should have some relationship to the rest of the ad.
You could also use two or three short words together, which creates a different, more complex meaning than either word alone. For example, "Office Sex” or "Growing Pains" or “Eat It Raw” (a headline for a seafood restaurant). Try out several alternatives before deciding on such a headline. Remember, the headline isn't meant to sell, it is only meant to act as a stop sign, leading readers to look at your ad.
4) Use a mysterious word or phrase. "Ancient Secrets Revealed!," "Lost Vault Uncovered!!," and "Mysterious Discovery!!!" are examples of this technique. People love mysteries. If your headline promises your readers secrets, intrigue, mystery, or oddities, they will often stop to learn more. [Note how exclamation marks lend drama and excitement to the headline. Read On!!!]
People's love for such stimulation hasn't changed since P.T. Barnum made a fortune on freaks and oddities, and Robert Ripley did the same with his "Believe It Or Not" museum. One of the finest examples of pure “amazing mystery” public relations hype was created by the producers of the Geraldo Rivera TV show, who built American viewers to a frenzy waiting for the show in which Geraldo would unlock the newly-discovered vault of Al Capone. While the show was ridiculed for promising "Amazement!,” while delivering an empty box, the hype was first class. Do you see this is the kissing cousin to our carnival barker’s pitch to see the giant rat? People and places change, but good techniques are with us always.
Again, make sure your headline ties into the rest of your ad -- and deliver on your promise. Mr. Rivera will never live down that one terrible moment when the door opened, and millions of excited viewers saw -- nothing.
5 ) Use the words "How To" in your headline. America is a nation of doers. From fixing cars and screen doors to fixing our health and golf games, we like to do things, and do them pretty well. Ads which promise information about how to do something will get attention and readership. Even if readers don't need the information now, they may want to know how to do it later.
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