No one will read your glittering promotional copy if your headline doesn’t make them sit up and take notice. Jennifer Menten has eight tips for grabbing your prospects’ attention.
Much as I may wish it were otherwise, paying an expensive copywriter to create clever headlines for your promotions isn’t going to garner you a single subscription sale. Not, that is, if your message is miss-targeted, your proposition is unfocused and your copy is about as inspiring as a tenth rerun of The Big Sleep.
On the other hand, without a killer headline, you’re not going to get your prospects to take in your sales pitch at all, let alone part with their hard-earned cash. Because your headline is the only chance you have to flag your prospects down, arouse their interest and make them want to find out more about your magazine.
Admittedly, that’s a tall order for a few snappy words… especially when you consider that, like the proverbial door-to-door sales rep, you only have a few seconds to ‘get your foot in the door’.
To keep that door open and your prospect listening, your headline needs to be more than just an exercise in arm waving. Which doesn’t mean that it needs to convey a complete selling message. In fact, it doesn’t even have to make immediate sense. But it does need to link to a relevant and appealing benefit or benefits set forth in the body copy.
Here are a few headline approaches that have worked for other publishers, and may well ring sales tills for you…
1. Make a specific, achievable, credible claim
Would you really be tempted to buy a magazine subscription simply because you’ve been told that it’s ‘just for you’… comes with a ‘thought-provoking offer’… or delivers ‘the best in contemporary journalism’?
I thought not. Because these headlines – invented but typical of many I’ve seen - are so limp-wristed they could apply to virtually any magazine in print.
Look what happens when a specific claim is made in the headline instead:
7 recipes you’ll wish you could try tonight
Give us just 10 minutes a month… and we’ll help you achieve healing solutions that will simply shock your doctor
Here’s a quick way to break up a cold
Not only does each of these headlines make a concrete promise (tasty recipes, healing solutions that work, cold recovery), each one also gives the impression that the promised end result is easy to achieve and – better yet – can be enjoyed without a lengthy wait or a huge expenditure of time.
2. Counter scepticism
When you wish to state a benefit in your headline but hesitate because you’re concerned that your message won’t be believed, don’t toss your idea into the wpb. There’s a way you can counteract potential scepticism and get your readers nodding in agreement.
You can tackle raised eyebrows head on by stating that yes, your claim does seem hard to believe…
“It seems incredible that we can offer an art magazine this lavish for just £3.”
You can infer that others have already enjoyed the benefit you’re promising…
“Who else wants a 12-month cooking course for just £7.50 a month?”
Or instead of bigging up your claim, you could make it appear believable by referring to the ‘invisible other’…
“Why some people always make money in the stock market”
3. Hand out a compliment
Most people relish receiving compliments. If you can dish one out in your headline without appearing smarmy or insincere, by all means do so… bearing in mind that you must connect your compliment to a benefit that your magazine can fulfil.
This headline for Patrick Holford’s health newsletters gives a gentle ego massage…
You don’t swallow junk food. Why swallow junk health advice?
Alternatively, you could compliment your reader through association. For example, a tennis title might adopt a promotional headline such as this…
Edberg, Murray, Cash, Johnson
… Johnson being the surname of the prospect receiving your promotion. No more words are required, as your prospect will be keen to discover what he or she could possibly have in common with the top names in their favourite sport. (They all take expert advice to improve their performance, of course.)
4. Make an interruptive statement
Some copywriters will tell you that headlines should convey a complete message to be effective. This is quite untrue. Often the best way to get your prospects to stop in their tracks is to make a provocative statement that elicits the response “Come again?”
When the feminist magazine Ms. was launched in the USA, the publisher took out a series of page ads in the New York Times to draw attention to the new publication. One approach depicted the current cover of the magazine, which carried the cover line: How’s your sex life?, followed by three tick boxes: Better, Worse, I forget.
But the real show stopper was the headline that ran above it…
Sex isn’t an act anymore
5. Turn a negative into a positive
When market research in the States indicated that readers of news magazines perceived U.S. News & World Report as less popular than its rivals, the publisher decided to step into the picture… literally. An ad appeared in the New York Times showing his photograph accompanied by the headline:
Have you ever met anybody who actually reads this magazine?
The first line of the copy turned what appeared to be a negative message into a positive one, by claiming “Only 8 million very, very selective people do read it.”
If you want to try a negative-into-positive approach, handle it with kid gloves. It can easily boomerang and leave your prospects with the precise impression you wished to counter!
6. Share a secret… or six
Everyone knows that ‘secret’ is a head-turning word in print. That’s because it promises to give us an edge in our personal and professional lives by letting us in on beneficial tips that are available only to a select few (the readers of a particular magazine, natch).
That doesn’t mean you have to shoe-horn the actual word into your headline. See how artfully the Economist goes about it…
Ever wondered where top dogs get their leads?
Another way to spill those selective beans is to link your magazine to a relevant authority…
Discover the Greek island travel agents don’t want you to know about
These messages entice the reader to read further by inferring “we’re going to share some highly selective information that will be to your advantage… so listen up.”
7. Try the instructive approach
Raise your hands if you don’t want any of the following: more money, excellent career prospects, good health, a beautiful home, a trim and toned body, lots of energy, wonderful holidays, success with the same / opposite sex, a rewarding pastime.
That’s just a partial list of the lifestyle goals many of us aspire to. And we’re keen to believe that all it takes to achieve them is a little practical help… like a shoe-up from our favourite magazine.
You can spot an instructive headline a mile off, because it frequently starts with the words ‘how to’, ‘where to’ or ‘when to’. Here are a few examples…
How do entertainers entertain?
When doctors feel rotten, here is what they do
How French men last longer
Where smart Italians go on holiday
How to turn the room in your head into a room in your home
Without indulging in excessive naval gazing, the appeal of the instructive headline resides in our deep seated psychological need to master either our environment or ourselves. Naturally we want a positive outcome, but we also yearn to feel in control of our actions and decisions, and have a sense of power over our world.
8. Test a ‘reason why’ headline
Am I the only one to notice that a lot of headlines these days merely bark instructions at readers… ‘buy this’ / ‘save that’ / ‘don’t miss this’ / ‘subscribe now’?
There’s a place for directive headlines, of course, but all too often I suspect they’re merely an excuse for getting the job done fast when there’s no clear sales proposition and the writer has only been provided with an offer to hype.
In a competitive marketplace, that’s just not adequate. Because an offer-driven headline will not define your magazine in a crowded field, or will it give you the ‘in’ to present a reasoned argument for your readers to take out a subscription.
But hey – you have all those back issues sitting on your desk. Dig around in them and let the content be your inspiration. Here’s one way to do it…
1) Select a specific area of editorial coverage that you know is popular with your readers
2) Write a line describing the benefit it offers
3) Preface that line with the word ‘why’
4) Fine-tune if necessary
Let me give you an example…
Let’s say you’re writing an ad for a weight loss magazine. You know that your readers get discouraged because they’re surrounded by friends who seem to be able to stuff their faces all day and never get fat. So you write the following headline…
Some people can eat all they want and never put on a pound
A bit pedestrian, granted. But now add the word ‘why’ and see what happens…
Why some people can eat all they want and never put on a pound
Now for the spit and polish (and a bit of honesty)…
Why some people can eat anything they want and still stay pencil slim
By starting your headline with the word ‘why’, you alert your readers to the fact that you’re going to show them exactly how they can enjoy the foods they love without gaining weight. And that’s something they’ll really want to digest!