Three Steps to Creating Irresistible Headlines (and Getting More People to Read Your Ads)

We’re going old school today.

I wish I didn’t have to do this.  I really don’t.

But there are just too many wannabes, chumps, and various “undesirables” out there ignoring fundamental laws of effective advertising.  This madness needs to stop.  Maybe then John Caples (one of the greatest ad men of all time) can stop rolling in his grave and finally rest in peace.

Look, it’s impossible for your ad to get traction (i.e., results) if no one reads it.  And no one will read it if it doesn’t get their attention amidst the acid rain of bad advertising constantly raining down on them.  And it’s impossible to get your prospect’s attention if your headlines – the big, bold, “ad to your ads” – are written in ways that take their teeth out.

Sounds simple, right?  You’d think.  Then why do people spend most of their time more concerned with the end of the chain than the beginning?  They fuss over an ad’s layout, graphics, and whether the message jibes with the company’s brand.  Then, once they get everything “perfect,” they slap on a headline.

These people are committing a cardinal sin:

They Are Assuming (Mistakenly) That Prospects Will Read Their Fancy, Schmancy Ads in the First Place!

It takes a lot for an ad to get someone’s attention these days.  The sheer volume of marketing messages people are exposed to has increased exponentially over the past few decades.  Assuming you have the ADD public’s attention (without putting some serious thought into your best chance to get that attention… your headline) is just plain dumb.

Sticking to proven strategies that work is more important now than ever before.

Here’s the thing: no one cares about your slick graphics.  No one cares about your professional typeface.  And if you ever come across someone who creates “cute” headlines – someone obsessed with being witty – I want you to do us all a favor:

I Want You to Punch Him Right in His Clever Face.  O.K., Not Really. But You Should Refer Him to This Post.

No one, and I mean no one, has the time or inclination to figure out what your ad means.  If you try to show off how clever you are, you’re forgetting the natural law that people are interested in themselves.

If figuring out your ad doesn’t give them any type of benefit, they’ll stop reading.  And without any interested prospects, you won’t have to worry about your brand, your graphics, or your wit anymore.  Cash flow, on the other hand, now that might become a legitimate concern…

So, with the plethora of mistakes being made, how do you separate yourself from the pack?  How do you break away from the bands of wolves out there lunging at each other’s throats in search for scraps?  Well, for starters what you do is STOP trying to reinvent the wheel.

Business is hard enough as it is (“Thanks, taxman and ridiculous regulations!”).  You don’t need to make it any harder on yourself.  Study the three steps below.  They are the closest things to magic bullets I can give you.  They work, regardless of the market, media, or the decade.  Use them to spout off headlines that get your ads read.  Ignore them at your own risk.

Ready?  Here they are, in order from most to least effective…

Step One: Include the “Payoff” or Implied Benefit Your Prospect Will Get if They Read Your Ad

So many ads completely ignore the payoff.  It makes me sick.  And it will make you sick, too (once you see how much more effective your headlines are when you follow this principle).

What do I mean by this?  It’s easier for me to show you how it works in a headline instead of rambling on about “concepts.”  So, let’s say I get my hands on a special diet pill that helps new mothers lose baby weight.  I want to advertise the heck out of this baby and get the money rolling in.

An amateur headline might read something like: “New Mothers… Delight!” or “The Secret Sisterhood of Skinny Moms.”

Those headlines don’t promise the reader a thing.  Imagine if you saw them in a magazine.  You’d glance at the headline; maybe you’d even think it seemed interesting.  But you wouldn’t keep reading because those headlines don’t answer the unspoken question that’s ALWAYS lingering in the front of your mind: “what will I get for reading this?”

People won’t spend their time reading an ad unless they think they’ll get something in return for it.  Not even  if the body of your copy goes on to describe how you have something great to offer.  They won’t see it because their attention will already be focused on the next shiny object.

O.K.  Let’s try those headlines again.  Say I rewrite them like this: “How to Lose Baby Weight and Join the Secret Sisterhood of Skinny Moms.” or “Special Diet Pill Lets New Mothers Bounce Back and Reclaim Their Figures!”

See the difference?  These headlines give the reader a reason to keep reading because they contain an implied benefit (finding out how to lose weight after having a baby).  One caveat: this step only works when you actually deliver on the promise you set up in your headline.  If you tell someone you’ll show them how to lose weight, offer them a solution in the context of your product or service.

Step Two: If You Can, Make Your Headline “Newsworthy”

Here’s another way to make your headlines stand out from the crowd.  If you can use the novelty angle in your headline when introducing your product or service, you can amp up your prospect’s curiosity.  This increases the chances people will read beyond your headline and dive into the body of your copy.  And if it goes according to plan, they’ll want to flip open their wallets by the time they’re through.

Remember: everyone out there is looking for the next new thing.  The magic pill that offers shortcuts, less elbow grease, and guaranteed results.  Most people are bored.  They’re naturally drawn to what’s new, even if it’s just a “new spin” on an old way of thinking.

Let’s go back to my diet pill.  Remember our “amateur” headlines?  They were: “New Mothers… Delight!” and “The Secret Sisterhood of Skinny Moms.”

I can make them suck less just by tossing a little novelty into the mix.  So, headlines like “At Last… A Reason for New Mothers to Delight!” and “The Secret Sisterhood of Skinny Moms: Now Accepting Applications” beat the pants off the old ones.  A new mom who comes across these headlines would wonder what the fuss is about.  And when she wonders strongly enough, she keeps reading…

This is easy to implement.  All it takes are simple words like “finally,” “at last,” “new,” and “cutting edge.”

One more thing (this is important).  You can combine Step 1 and Step for even better results!  Here are a few headlines to give you an idea what I mean: “Finally… A New Way to Lose Baby Weight and Join the Secret Sisterhood of Skinny Moms!” or “A Revolutionary New Diet Pill Lets Moms Bounce Back and Reclaim Their Figures!”

This doubles the reasons for a prospect to get through your material.  If you can swing it (and you almost always can find a way your product adds a new “spin” on things), then you should.

Step Three: Use Your Headline to Arouse Your Reader’s Curiosity

And finally, the third (and least effective) “classic” technique is to pique people’s curiosity so much they just have to read on for the answer to the question your headline implants in their minds.

Next time you’re in the grocery store, take a look at the gossip rags near the checkout counter.  Publications like Cosmopolitan and The National Enquirer are masters at toying with people’s curiosity.  Their massive circulations – with readerships in the millions – are living, breathing proof that curiosity can be extremely powerful.

If you don’t abuse it.  You see, the curiosity element is most effective if you can relate it to your product or service.  For instance, one of the best performing sales letters of all time was a direct mail piece about an English language course.  The headline was “Do You Make These Mistakes in English?”

People had to know… “Which mistakes is he talking about?”  So they read.  And they bought in droves because the product being sold helped them avoid those embarrassing mistakes in the future.

It’s easy to abuse the curiosity thing, though (which is why it’s rated third in effectiveness).  A lot of copywriters do this.  They slap on a curiosity-provoking headline that has nothing to do with what they’re selling.  Take a look at the picture below.  I think you’ll get my drift:

For the Love of All Things Good, Stay Away from This Nonsense...

For the Love of All Things Good, Stay Away from This Nonsense…

Using curiosity headlines like this is cheating.  Your prospect might get into your body copy, but he or she will be less than thrilled when it has NOTHING to do with your headline.  Swoop in and try to sell them, and you’ll leave a bad taste in their mouths and destroy any credibility you have left.

Curiosity is extremely powerful, and, in the words of Uncle Ben, “With great power comes great responsibility.”

That’s all for now.  I’m off to watch a few episodes of The Fresh Prince…

P.S.  Here’s an idea.  Why don’t you leave me a comment with your own headline for the diet pill I used as my example in this post?  Bonus points if you can combine all three appeals for massive damage.  Ready?  Go for it!  Make John Caples (and me) proud!