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Archive for April 2013

I Suck at Headlines

Best Sub Heading EverI saw one of the best headlines (actually, it’s the sub-head) EVER -->
on FaceBook the other day for an article in The Ulster Gazette about the price of a rail system (Over £100M!) The sub head is, of course, an extended pun on Queen’s Bohemian Rhapsody. It’s hip, it’s funny and it works. DAMN!

It does violate one of the rules of headlines – that they be short. There’s a similar rule in comedy – the longer the joke, the stronger the punch line has to be. This sub head overcomes that rule. Each line of the subhead builds the joke. The payoff is HUGE.

Which brings home the fact that I suck at writing headlines. And email subject lines for that matter. A headline should convey what your article (or blog post or whatever) is about, intrigue the reader and draw them in. Many times you can do this by asking a question. The famous example is the Psychology Today headline that asked “Do you close the bathroom door when you are home alone?” Can’t remember the most common answer; I can remember that their subscriptions skyrocketed.

I really, really hate headlines (and subject lines for that matter) that lead you in one direction and then don’t deliver. If you want to piss off your followers, that would be a quick way to do it. I recently read an article on Huffington Post where the title had nothing to do with the article. (No, it wasn’t a Kim Kardashian side-boob article. They always deliver the goods on that one.) The comments blazed and the author of the article apologized profusely explaining that he did not write the title. Any merit the article had was negated by the misleading title.

If you can’t be intriguing, if you can’t be hilarious and you can’t think of a GREAT headline, do this:

1. Keep it short
2. Convey the main point of what the article is about
3. Convey that point in terms of how it will benefit the reader (Please Note: This post headline does not do this. Yes, I am a risk taker.)

There are “headline generating” programs that you can get. But you pretty much end up with canned headlines. “5 Easy Ways to…” or “Ninja Secrets for…” Blah, Blah, Blah. I think the general public is getting more sophisticated when it comes to sales copy and screaming headlines. Maybe I’m an optimist but then again, the National Enquirer’s circulation has been in steady decline since 2010, so there is hope. I think people are over-marketed. They are growing skeptical. The sales page headlines that worked so well in 2006, with promises of the secret to quick wealth have been seen too many times. People still respond to hype -- you can trick people into buying your stuff. But if you need to trick people into buying your stuff, maybe you should re-think what you are doing with your life.

Honor your client base by treating them as intelligent human beings. It’s a radical concept, I know. But for businesses whose target market is NOT the lowest common denominator, respect for your client base is a pretty good place to start and maintain the relationship.

Yes, you want a strong headline. Yes, it’s important. But you can try too hard. Many times keeping it simple, original and honest will work better than an over-the-top headline that immediately turns the reader off. Try it. Less hype. More honesty. Because this is real life, not a fantasy.


Recently I heard what might be the worst commercial for a grocery store EVER. If ever a commercial was designed to make me retract my stance on truth in advertising, this was it. I was listening to the radio (driving, of course – does anyone listen to the radio at home anymore?) when a commercial for Publix Grocery Stores came on. It went something like this:

“Walmart does not always have the lowest prices. Blah blah Buy One Get One Free blah, blah. In fact, with careful planning, you can sometimes save money shopping at Publix.”

I have to say, once I reassured myself that **yes – I did just HEAR that ** I was underwhelmed. First of all, the ad agency must have created this ad as a joke, a final flipping of the bird to their client’s demand for honesty and a low-key approach. I mean, they couldn't have been serious when they pitched this ad to Publix. But here’s the amazing thing. Someone in the marketing department at Publix listened to that ad and said, “Hey! Great! This will have them knocking down our doors.”

Kudos to Publix for deciding to take on Walmart head to head. But if you’re going to do that, let’s have some fun, dontcha think? Here’s my ad for Publix:

Cue Mayberry RFD theme.
Folksy male V.O.:

“Ya know, there’s a reason why there’s no website called Our aisles are not clogged with society’s misfits – people with their boobs hanging out, sometimes in the front, sometimes in the back, kids showing more ass crack than an elephant (who at least tries to cover it with its tail) or just plain people whose meds are not balanced and haven’t been for some time. In fact, most of the people who shop here look a lot like you and me. Most of them shower on a regular basis. Posted on every door is a notice telling you that shirt and shoes are required to shop here. It’s a grocery store where people buy food that they will ingest. Frankly, we don’t think that asking our customers to respect minimum health standards is such a stretch.

Our prices might be a little higher on some items, a little lower on others. And while Walmart might be a great place to pick up a shop vac or some extra rounds of ammo for the family barbecue this weekend, do you really want to buy your food there? We don’t blame you. Publix. Where shopping won’t make you want to gouge your own eyes out.”

Truth in advertising: Not as boring as it sounds.

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April 2013
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