Famous Last Words: About Headlines
I used to know Sheldon Hearst, whose business was putting racks of 5½˝ x 8˝ take-one brochures in supermarkets. A marketer had a fraction of a second to catch the shopper's eye with a headline. The most powerful, most successful headline that was used for years:
The offer was a special report on how to deal with bed-wetting by children and adults.
"The headline selects the reader," said direct mail guru Axel Andersson.
My wife and I were in Bermuda recently, and I came across this display box of bookmark-sized take-ones offering gifts, excursions, restaurants, etc., all over the island. Success in this medium depends on a strong headline that selects the reader—one to four words that telegraph the offer.
Look at the close-up of these take-ones. If you want to fish or need a gift store, here is the answer. All others in the display box require work and are not immediately easy to read.
Headlines that stand out from the crowd are elsewhere in the box:
Segway Tours; Sea; Treck Island Tours; Rent a Scooter; Fly Fishing; Fishing Parties; and Ride Bermuda (with a horse illustration)
Headlines that do not make immediate sense:
HOG PENNY; OVERPROOF; HENRY VIII; ONION JACK'S; Brown & Co.; 10% OFF!; and Pickled Onion
You have to remove the card and read it to know what is being offered. "The customer doesn't give a damn about you, your company or your product," said Seattle direct marketing guru Bob Hacker. "All that matters is, ‘What's in it for me?'" (Or "Always listen to WII-FM.")
Many years ago in these pages I wrote a cover story about Marty Edelston and the company he founded, Boardroom, publisher of newsletters and books. The secret of Edelston's success was the world's slowest copywriter, Mel Martin, who could take a week to come up with a headline or the teaser on an envelope. It was Martin's brilliant, painstaking copy that grew Boardroom into a $125 million-a-year behemoth.
"The headline is the ad for the ad," wrote the great retail-marketing consultant Murray Raphel. Copywriter Andrew J. Byrne calls the headline "the most important part of the ad."
"The wickedest of all sins is to run an advertisement without a headline," said the legendary David Ogilvy, who called the headline "the ticket on the meat." Ogilvy also cautioned, "Never deface your illustration by printing your headline over it. Never set it on a gray or colored tint."
The Magic Number: 30
In the world of e-mail, the subject line is the equivalent of the headline on the space ad or take-one. But subject lines are tougher than print
headlines because you are limited to roughly 30 characters and your message is one click away from oblivion. Take a look at today's spam in your inbox. The reason it is spam is that it does not relate to you and you know it immediately.
"Focus your headline on your target group," wrote copywriter Drew Allen Miller. "If they are golfers, show golfers on the cover photo. And use the word golf in your headline. Example: 'Be a better golfer.'"
This principle applies to e-mail. Headlines matter!