If Goldilocks Wrote Headlines
Much of the work involved in writing winning direct mail packages goes into writing headlines. In the course of just one package, there may be as many as seven headlines. One for the outer envelope front. One for the outer envelope back. Then one each for the first page of the letter, the lift note, the buck slip, the first panel of the brochure and the inside spread of the brochure. So arming yourself with a full set of headline options is a good way to begin the package-writing process.
Headlines come in all shapes and sizes. And it's a copywriter's innate sixth sense that determines which one is right for the job. Some are short. Some are long. Some tease. Some explain. Some announce. Some demand. Some simply make a statement. Some even ask a question.
Here, from my vast library of direct mail packages past and present, are sample headlines that achieve various
resultsgrouped for discussion's sake.
* First up, headlines that offer to fill a voidreal or imagined. For American Girl magazine: "Finally, a safe wholesome haven for girls 8 to 12."
And for Men's Journal: "Finally, there's a new men's magazine for the kind of man you are." A good substitute for "finally" is "at last." Both promise the arrival of something beneficial to the reader that wasn't previously available.
A variation on that theme is "suddenly," as in: "Suddenly, your life in the big city just got a lot easier." This approach promises an abrupt change for the better, due, of course, to whatever it is you're selling.
* For new product introductions, it makes sense to use the word "introducing," as in: "Introducing the new magazine for women who want it alland want it delivered."
If the product has been around awhile and isn't technically new, I've still used "introducing," but added the word "you" (since the product is most likely new to the prospect), as in: "Introducing you to the magazine of gracious living." That was for Veranda, the home decorating magazine that's by no means new, but has just recently begun testing packages in the mail. If a product or service deserves a news bulletin type of introduction, you can't beat the old war-horse word "announcing," as in: "Announcing a whole new way to keep your house looking smart and smelling fresh."
* Another old reliable is "how to." And it doesn't have to be as stilted as: "How to win friends and influence people." You can jazz it up: "How to garner more friends than you ever thought possible while convincing them to gladly do your bidding." While how-to headlines aren't used as often today as they used to be, they can be quite effective.
* Some outer envelope headlines ask rhetorical questions: "When was the last time a magazine made you say 'aaaaahhh?'"(Saveur). Others make simple, yet compelling, statements while hinting at further revelations
inside the envelope: "Something for everyone to disagree with" (The New Republic). Or: "You always knew there was something funny about New York" (Spy). Or: "What women wish you'd pay more attention to" (Esquire).
* Many successful headlines begin with an action verb, as in this example for American Girl: "Discover the award-winning age-appropriate alternative to 'too fast, too-soon' teen magazines." Or how about this long headline for Discover that romances the adventure of scientific discovery: "Come enter a world of exploration and discovery. A world where questions are answered, mysteries are solved, blanks are filled in and dots are connected. A world that, once inside, never quite leaves you." Or maybe this shorter one for Women's Sports and Fitness: "Get more fitness out of sports and more fun out of fitness."
* Other headlines work in tandem with an intriguing photograph. "Celebrate the joys, the wonder, the magic," ran in Family Life over a photograph of a grinning 8-year-old girl running through a field of wildflowers, arms outstretched, pulling a huge American flag behind her as if it were a Superman cape. Outside magazine hit pay-dirt with a stunning close-up photo of a climber's fingertips reaching over what appears to be the very summit of a rocky pinnacle: "What to read on your way to the top."
* Don't forget headlines that begin with an action verb, but express a command, like this one for Walking: "Remove contents, then step on this envelope." Or this headline, another example from Discover: "Open this envelope and discover a magazine about science fact that reads like science fiction, captivates like a medical thriller, intrigues like a historical who-done-it, and excites like a Hollywood cliffhanger."
* Sometimes a headline can break through the clutter with an exclamation. A headline for Men's Journal reads: "WARNING! What's inside will turn your stomach, send you straight off the deep end, and land you behind bars. (But hey, you'll be a better man for itpromise!)" Check out this arresting headline for American Homestyle: "STOP! Get out of the kitchen. Don't go near the bathroom. Until you read what's inside this envelope."
* If the magazine you're introducing is coming from the same publisher of an existing title relevant to the audience, make reference to it, as I did for Blender: "New from the publishers of MAXIM ... The ultimate music magazine." Such a tie-in gives instant credibility to the new magazine.
*If you're targeting a specific, narrowly defined group of consumers, say so in the headline. Here's an example from Arthritis Self-Management, a magazine for arthritis sufferers: "ARTHRITIS. If you have it, opening this envelope will make you feel a whole lot better. Guaranteed!"
My point: Any copywriter worth his or her salt ought to have an arsenal full of headline weapons such as these. Then, as the need arises, you'll be less inclined to reinvent the wheel, and more inclined to look for a "type of headline" you might want to use. I think you'll find it will help your creative juices flow in a more successful direction.
Ken Schneider is an award-winning direct mail writer/designer specializing in magazine, book and newsletter promotions. With more than 35 circulation direct marketing awards, he has been honored more than any other individual or direct mail organization. Schneider splits his time between Houston, TX, and Aspen, CO. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.