What’s Wrong With These Headlines?
"The most essential gift for a good writer is a built-in, shock-proof shit detector," Ernest Hemingway said. "This is the writer's radar and all great writers have had it."
When two rule-breaking headlines smacked me in the snoot on the same day over breakfast, the red flag of my shit detector started waving furiously.
Ad No. 1: Aberdeen Asset Management
This was full-page 4-color ad in the May 21, 2013 Wall Street Journal. Cost for a non-contract full page in the National Edition: $327,897.03.
If Aberdeen charges two percent a year as a management fee, to break even this ad would have to attract roughly $16 million from investors.
If you had a spare $16 million, would this ad persuade you to to park it with these folks?
At Aberdeen, asset management is our sole focus.
That's how we've been able to concentrate on
building capabilities across all key asset classes—
from equities and bonds, from property to alternatives.
And because we have this expertise, we can deliver
multi-asset investment solutions as well as individual
funds. More insight to capture more opportunity.
For more information please visit
Simply asset management.
Ad No. 2: BRANDYWINE SENIOR LIVING at Voorhees
This was an 11" x 17" freestanding insert (FSI) in The Philadelphia Inquirer folded in half. On opening the paper, the reader sees the top panel with nine men and women dressed for a gala.
Okay, I'm 77—maybe a candidate for Brandywine. If you were my age, would you want to spend the rest of your life with this crowd based on the photo and text of this ad?
YOU don't know us from ADAM ...
or GARY, or MELISSA, or JENN, or DAVE, or JACQUELYNE,
or LEE ANN, or REBECCA, or CHRISTINA (but you will soon!)
Meet Gary ... Executive Director ...
Like the Chairman of the Board, Frank Sinatra,
Gary wants you to know that The Best is Yet to Come!
Meet Melissa ... Director of Community Relations ...
With the harmony and fun of the Andrews Sisters'
Boogie Woogie Bugle Boy, Melissa can take you
on a journey of Company B!
Meet Jenn ... Move-in Coordinator ...
Who will make your move to Brandywine as smooth
as Lauren Bacall's voice.
(back far right)
Meet Lee Ann ... Business Office Manager ...
Lucy may have lost count of the chocolates, but Lee Ann
keeps everything in tip top order.
(third from left)
Meet Rebecca ... Escapades ... for Life! Producer ...
Our very own Ginger Rogers who wants you to come be our
Fred Astaire and keep you dancing all day and night!
(second from left)
Meet Jacquelyne ... Dining Services Director ...
You'll feel like swinging from a star after experiencing
Jacqui's delightful dishes.
(fourth from left)
Meet Christina ... Director of Community Relations ...
After meeting Christina, you'll be looking for the
yellow brick road because there's no place like Brandywine.
Meet Dave ... Environmental Services Director ...
Moving into your new suite will be as easy as the sweet sounds
of Tommy Dorsey's trombone.
Our leadership team is dedicated to making your life beautiful
at our gorgeous new community. I am so proud to introduce
them to you!
—Brenda J. Bacon, President & CEO
(front row, far right)
Headline Rules broken
"Avoid the "hard-to-grasp" headline—the headline that requires thought and is not clear at first glance." —John Caples
"Remember that every headline has one job. It must stop your prospects with a believable promise." —John Caples
"Some headlines are "blind.' They don't say what the product is, or what it will do for you. They are about 20 per cent below average in recall." —David Ogilvy
"The headline is the ticket on the meat. Use it to flag down readers who are prospects for the kind of products you are advertising. If you are selling a remedy for bladder weakness, display the words BLADDER WEAKNESS in your headline; they catch the eye of anyone who suffers from this inconvenience. If you want mothers to read your advertisement, display MOTHERS in your headline. And so on." —David Ogilvy
"Clearly state a benefit in your headline." —Craig Huey, president, Direct Marketing Creative Group
"The headline selects the reader." —Axel Andersson, founder, Axel Andersson Akademie, Hamburg, Germany, World's second foremost expert on direct mail
"People are hurried. The average person worth cultivating has too much to read. They skip three-fourths of the reading matter, which they pay to get. They are not going to read your business talk unless you make it worth their while and let the headline show it." —Claude Hopkins
"Specifics sell. Generalities don't." —Andrew J. Byrne
Takeaways to Consider
- "The writing of headlines is one of the greatest journalistic arts." —Claude Hopkins, "Scientific Advertising"
- "Headlines on ads are like headlines on news items. Nobody reads a whole newspaper. One is interested in financial news, one in political, one in society, one in cookery, one in sports, etc. There are whole pages in any newspaper, which we may never scan at all. Yet other people might turn directly to those pages. We pick out what we wish to read by headlines, and we don't want those headlines misleading." —Claude Hopkins
- "Always bear these facts in mind. People are hurried. The average person worth cultivating has too much to read. They skip three-fourths of the reading matter which they pay to get. They are not going to read your business talk unless you make it worth their while and let the headline show it." —Claude Hopkins
- "On the 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." —David Ogilvy
- "Now, I spend hours on headlines—days if necessary. And when I get a good headline, I know that my task is nearly finished. Writing the copy can usually be done in a short time if necessary. And that advertisement will be a good one that is, if the headline is really a stopper." —John Caples
- "What good is all the painstaking work on copy if the headline isn't right? If the headline doesn't stop people, the copy might as well be written in Greek." —John Caples
- "It is the headline that gets people into the copy. The copy doesn't get them into the headline." —Vic Schwab