March 2013 Cosmopolitan: A Headlines Masterclass

I bet you could dream up your own March 2013 Cosmopolitan headlines in a few minutes.

“Cosmo headlines” are so consistent month after month they’ve become an institution.

I used to wonder why people would keep buying new issues of what appeared to be canned material like it was their job . . .

But that was before I began studying copywriting or understood the power of classic headline principles.  That was before I learned about the universal appeals that make people powerless to resist.

This month’s issue is no different.  It offers a perfect opportunity to analyze each of the headlines on the cover and point out why it’s so effective.

Here’s this month’s cover:


Pretty unremarkable, huh?

If you’ve ever been stuck in line at the grocery store, I’m sure you’ve seen previous issues of Cosmopolitan with a virtually identical layout.

Hmm.  It’s almost like they have a proven template they use each and every month. . .

And that’s because they do!  No matter how “loud” or trashy this cover may appear to you, it’s anything but thrown together.

Let’s dig deeper and analyze each headline in turn.  That way you can see the classic principles at work.

Your Best Sex Ever: 20 Moves from Cuddly to Crazy

This one’s a mainstay of “Cosmo headlines.”  And after so many issues ticking off sex moves, it makes one wonder just how many “moves” are really out there.

Anyways, no matter how many times Cosmo uses this style of headline, it never fails to draw people in.

Why?  Benefits, benefits, benefits!  This headline promises one of the most persuasive benefits known to humankind: sex.  Not just sex, but your best sex ever.  All you have to do is just flip open the magazine to learn these new moves.

In addition to the solid implied benefit, this headline also sprinkles in an element of curiosity.  It implants questions in the reader’s mind: What are these 20 moves exactly?  Am I doing them now, or are they crazy new moves I don’t know about yet?  Which ones are “cuddly” and which ones are “crazy?”

And where can they find the answers to all these questions?  Easy!  Just flip open the magazine and read more.

It’s Miley B*tches . . . “I’ve Never Faked Anything.”
Awesome Bonus Covers!

Cosmo features a different celebrity each month.  This month’s choice, Miley Cyrus, is young, controversial, and confident.  And, despite her atrocious hairstyle, Cyrus’ personality and celebrity status make her a huge draw to Cosmo’s target demographic.

A lot of impressionable Cosmo readers want to be more like Miley, so they’ll want to read what she has to say.  There’s also an element of curiosity here: what does she mean when she says she’s never “faked” anything?

If all that wasn’t enough to draw a reader in, the coup de grace of this headline is the implied benefit of bonus covers for every reader.

The Hot Abs & Butt Workout

This simple headline appeals to the reader’s vanity because it tantalizes her with the prospect of looking better.  And it’s not just looking better overall.  It hones in on specific body parts that are particularly important to girls – abs and butt – and offers a way to improve their appearance.

It’s all about the benefit here.  If you reader wants to look better – if she wants to have a hot body – then all she has to do is read the workout to find out how she can get it.

Simple and crazy effective.

Super Sexy Spring!  259 New Looks for Every Body and Budget

The first thing that stands out to me in this headline is its liberal use of alliteration.  It’s a language technique to makes written words “catchy” in the mind of the reader.  “Super Sexy Spring!”  does a good job of being catchy without going completely overboard with it.

This headline also introduces an element of novelty or time sensitivity.  Spring is fast approaching, so it’s important for readers to take advantage of these new looks before the season ends.  This gives a reader extra impetus to act sooner (i.e., buy the magazine now) rather than later.

A host of benefits are offered as well.  Over 250 new looks, no matter what you look like or how much money you have in your bank account.  It does a good job of knocking down potential objections (“I’m too heavy…” or “I’m broke . . . “) before the reader can talk herself out of reading the article.

The 3 Words You Must Never Say to a Guy

This is my favorite headline of the issue.  The curiosity element hits you so hard here it’s practically impossible not to rip open the magazine right then and there to find out what they mean.

My first thought for the words was, “I love you.”  But I have to open the magazine to see if I’m right . . .

The typical Cosmo reader is a young woman occupied with sex and relationships.  This headline is like crack cocaine for that demographic.  They want exciting relationships with guys of their dreams.  How terrible would it be to accidentally say something that made that impossible?

This headline offers them the solution: the way to avoid that potential pitfall.  Which makes it an awesome fear-based headline.

Must Read Threesome Confessions: Totally Awkward!

Eh.  This one touches on the curiosity element but not much else, making it the weakest one of the month in my opinion.

Sure, readers will want to satisfy their curiosity to hear about a stranger’s awkward bedroom adventures.  But will that curiosity be strong enough to compel them to buy the magazine?  I’m not so sure . . .

It’s a lot weaker than the previous headline, which whets the reader’s curiosity and combines it with an implied benefit: knowing not what to say to jeopardize a relationship.

Finally Stop Living Paycheck to Paycheck

This one is solid because it combines the novelty element with a strong benefit.

Just a single word, “finally,” says a lot to the Cosmo reader.  It says that all the “solutions” that were offered until this point won’t work.  And it also says that the reader can now stop searching for a solution because that solution is contained inside this month’s issue.  All she has to do is open the magazine and find it.

The implied benefit here – making enough money to feel financially secure – is about as strong as it gets.  Its appeal is practically universal to all of the Cosmo readers who are struggling financially.

Who wouldn’t want to make more money . . . or at least make enough to enjoy a peace of mind?

Beauty Under $10

Short and sweet, but effective nonetheless.

This headline hits on the vanity appeal again.  And when it comes to the typical Cosmo reader’s wants and desires, “looking better” and “being beautiful” rank near the top of the list.

And, to top it all off, you can achieve that desired outcome for less than $10.  Because many beauty products are quite expensive, readers will want to read on to find out how being beautiful on a budget is possible.

Curiosity tied in with an implied benefit makes this another solid headline.

Last Words . . .

You don’t have to get creative to write killer headlines.

Cosmo follows a predictable template to earn millions of readers, month after month.  It doesn’t make sense on a logical level because the material appears recycled, but Cosmo focuses on using headlines that strike its readers on an emotional (i.e., the “buying center”) level.

I highly recommend you write these headlines down and add them to your swipe file.  If you don’t have a swipe file yet, you should!  Here are 101 of my favorite headlines to get you started.

Make a study out of these Cosmo headlines; internalize their principles and you’ll imprint that magical template – the one that sells – into your copywriting brain.

P.S. Which headline was your favorite from the March 2013 Cosmopolitan?  Least favorite?  Why or why not?  Leave me a comment and let me know . . . I’d love to hear from you.