How to Write Headlines – Surprise and Persuade

Ad Samples For Copywriters

Copywriting tips on how to write headlines that grab attention and persuade. Copywriters can do this by using surprise, testimonials and long headlines

Some headlines have a shock/surprise value. Also known as the ‘twist’ that comes from putting together two very different concepts. This is a great way to lead the consumer into reading the entire advertisement. But the writer should make sure that the body copy explains the headline straight away. Readers don’t have all the time in the world to find out and may not read on.

Writing Headlines That Surprise

Here’s one of the headlines that appeared in an ad campaign for a restaurant.

Sometimes our Chef refuses to make your favorite dish. That’s why we hired him.

The shock or surprise element draws the reader into the body copy which goes on to explain that the not so fresh fish is thrown away to the hotel cat. So if the customer orders his favorite salmon dish and the fish is not up to the mark, he doesn’t get it. To make sure the fish is fresh, the Chef goes to the market himself.

The big idea here is to give a twist to the traditional role of the chef.

In the same shocking and intriguing vein is this headline for a very popular restaurant that was saying farewell to its customers:

This is the last thing we ever wanted you to see.

The visual was hard to crack. Eventually, the art director and copywriter decided to show falling leaves. The first line of the body copy explained the visual:

It’s the end of a season at Paradise Island.

In the Direct Mail version the headline simply became:

This is an invitation we’d hoped you’d never get.

And the same visual worked again.

A highly emotional approach is exactly what was called for here.

Do Good Headlines Use Superlatives?

When the copywriter creates a trumpet-blowing headline, he must make sure that the product lives up to the superlatives used.


Oil of Olay: Amazing. And still ahead of its time.

On the other hand, if the product is indeed the best, it’s silly not to capitalize on it.

Testimonials – Building Credibility

The testimonial headline is a tried and tested way to build credibility because it is the opinion of those who have already bought and used the product. This requires some research. The writer needs to talk to those who use the product in order to quote them.

The quote should sound natural and not stilted. The endorser should actually use a particular product and not a rival product. Otherwise, it can lead to humiliation for the agency and the writer. Honesty is important here.

A famous testimonial headline written by the well-known copywriter John Caples is:

“They laughed when I sat down at the piano, but when I started to play. . .”

The Dove soap commercial is another example of the testimonial approach. Here ordinary women say extraordinary things about the soap that does not make their skin feel ‘tight,’ as ordinary soap does.

Ad Samples – Long Ad Headlines

In the following example, the long headline serves as body copy too. The product is a high detergent fuel called Super Clean that helps unclog fuel injectors in automobiles. The visual is, of course, the man who’s giving the testimony and there’s an inset of the product itself.

“It’s my first new car. I’d had it only for a couple of months and it started funny. Then it wouldn’t start in the mornings. My mechanic said my fuel injectors might be clogged. And that I should try the gasoline he uses to clean ‘em out…run on a couple of tankfuls.

I didn’t believe him. But I’m a believer now. This gasoline did it.”

Contrary to popular belief, long headlines have often been proved to outsell short headlines. According to David Ogilvy, the advertising legend who founded Ogilvy & Mather, one of the world’s biggest ad agencies, it’s not a question of length but of saying what needs to be said.

Copywriting Tips on Writing Testimonials

The writer of the testimonial ad must resist putting too many words into the mouth of his endorser. This will make it more believable. He must avoid technical jargon. While he may know all the technical details of the product, the consumer does not. He must answer how these details translate into benefits for the consumer.

Testimonials in First Person

The writer may use the testimonial approach by writing in the first person for that effective “you” feel. Even if it’s only the cat endorsing cat food. Or a baby endorsing a diaper.

One of the most famous Direct Response letters is written by a mouse. But it must be believable – and doubly so. After all, the writer is playing “Let’s Pretend”.

There are various types of headlines that the copywriter must learn to write. He can surprise and shock readers into reading his ads, he can build brand credibility by using the testimonial approach, and he can use superlatives, provided the product is worthy. He need not shy away from writing long headlines, as these are often very effective.

How To Write a Direct Mail Piece That Sells

Attract New Customers and Increase Sales

Knowing how to use direct mail properly can dramatically improve sales for a business.

Some people refer to direct mail as “junk mail” but with people’s lives being so hurried and busy, there are a lot of people who will simply respond to direct mail due to convenience. The key to direct mail being an effective advertising option is to constantly tinker with options such as wording and design to see what gets the best response. A small business direct mail campaign can always be changed and developed to bring in higher response rates and sales.

Include Reviews and Testimonials in the Direct Mail Campaign

An advertiser should include any rave reviews or testimonials of the product or service from a well-known publication or respected individual. This gives the business more credibility which can be quite important to customers. If a customer sees that someone they know was satisfied with the product or service, they are more likely to purchase it as well. Also, including actual articles that have been written about the product in the brochures gives business credibility with a lot of people.

Special Deals and Sales For the Business

People love saving money and if a sale or special deal are offered to them, even on a product they don’t necessarily need, they often jump at the chance to buy it. These sale advertisements can be sent to current customers to make them feel special or can be sent to the entire company’s mailing list. Sales such as buy one get one free or half off always work well. Another deal that can be used is pre-sale offers, such as offering your current customers first choice before the actual sale begins. A direct mail coupon or sale should always include an expiration date.

State The Problem and How the Company Can Solve It

When a business owner writes a direct mail letter, they should always be specific and state what the problem may be and how the only way it can be fixed is with their company. State the obvious and it should never be assumed that readers know anything about the products or services. One should give specifics on the company can fix the problem and not just a generic answer. Brag about the company’s services and what they have done for others.

Don’t Forget the Company Information on the Direct Sales Letter

It may be surprised how many companies will write great direct mail pieces and then forget to include all the contact information for the company on the piece. An address, phone number, time to call, website and email should always be included in the direct sales letter. This gives the readers more piece of mind knowing that they can contact the company with any problems. If the direct mail piece is more than just a postcard or one-page letter, include this information more than once.

Even if all of the steps are followed, it does not always guarantee that a direct mail piece is going to be a success. There are also other factors that go into direct mail advertising such as the design and most importantly who is on the company’s mailing list. All three of these aspects should be put together and a successful direct mail campaign can then be achievable.

DIY Small Business Marketing

How to Create Promotional Materials With a Home Computer

When small businesses don’t have a big marketing budget, they can try the DIY approach.

As operating budgets continue to shrink, many small business owners find themselves with a very small marketing budget. Since a business that doesn’t promote itself is in danger of failing because no one knows that it exists, stopping all marketing is not a good solution for these businesses. Instead, business owners without a substantial marketing budget may want to try DIY small business marketing.


Supplies for Small Business Marketing Campaigns

To be able to create promotional materials, a small business owner will need to have:

  • A computer with desktop publishing software installed on it. A good printer is nice, but not strictly necessary. (The local library may have computers with desktop publishing software and may offer a laser printer for public use, as well.)
  • Nice graphics. A clear shot of the business building or of employees helping customers can work if there isn’t a company logo. (Logos are a good idea because people associate them with the company more easily than they do a photograph.)
  • Paper or cardstock for printing the final product onto. Again, this is not always necessary. Some people prefer to have the marketing materials printed by Kinko’s or Staples instead of printing them at home.

Common Small Business Marketing Materials

With the supplies in place, all the business owner needs to do is open the desktop publishing software, find a template for the item he or she wants to create and start designing.

One of the most effective marketing tools for a small business owner who is trying to network is still the basic business card. Some business owners prefer to go digital and simply add contacts right into their Blackberry, but not others will still ask for a business card. With options like VistaPrint or blank business card cardstock, this is one very economical way to promote a business.

Another useful marketing item is a flyer or brochure. A flier is a one-sheet marketing piece that usually highlights a special service or announces an event. The brochure is often a longer piece that talks about the company, the services it offers and how to contact the company. Brochures are usually more expensive to produce than fliers because they are usually two-sided and are printed on cardstock instead of copy paper.

Finally, a small business owner creating his or her own marketing materials may want to make a few other items to promote the business. Bookmarks with a company’s information are really simple to make and tend to stick around potential customers’ homes because they are useful. Also, coupons and gift certificates are great ways to increase revenue and are fairly easy to create.


Writing an Effective Tag Line

Creating a Catchy Slogan for Your Small Business

Once the key benefit of business has been determined, it is time to turn it into a tag line or slogan.

Now is the time to play with words. Turn the benefit into a catchy phrase that can be used along with the logo in all ads. The phrase must be memorable because it is the central theme of the campaign – a promise that is associated with the business name and logo.

Try Brainstorming

Gather together a few friends and lay down the ground rules for brainstorming. See the previous link for more on how to brainstorm effectively. The group’s job is to try to come up with a snappy, or simple, or memorable but easy way to communicate the key benefit to the public. They can say anything that pops into their heads, no matter how stupid it may seem. Often the silliest remarks are the ones that give someone else in the group inspiration.

Write everything down. Then compare them with the campaign objective – communicating the main benefit or promise – and see what happens.

Some Helpful Hints.

  • The tag line should be short. People should be able to remember it easily. Make it brief enough to fit onto a business card or even an advertising pen. Remember that outdoor advertising can use only 14 words to be readable – and that includes the business name as well as the promise. Linguistic devices such as rhyme or alliteration often help. Don’t overdo it and have every word in an 8-word slogan start with the same letter. But consider the rhyme and rhythm of a tag like “Everything’s Better With Blue Bonnet On It”’. A hint of alliteration, a bit of internal rhyme and an extremely memorable tag line.
  • Don’t forget that the benefit offered can be psychological. If people will feel more important, thriftier, more sophisticated or secure, let them know.
  • Avoid trite and overused claims. “Unique” is a word that should be abolished from all ads other than those that offer something that is truly one of a kind. “Give the gift of” is so overused that it is totally trite, as is “Experience the ___ (fill in the blank.)
  • Another overused claim is that the business offers quality goods at a reasonable price. Ninety-nine percent of all small businesses want to make this their main claim – which means that they are not setting themselves apart from their competitors. Aside from that, bragging about prices and goods is ignoring the audience and what they want – savings, perhaps, or comfort, or luxury. The business owner knows his or her audience and should have a pretty good idea of what they want from the business.
  • Avoid imprecise words. Instead of saying that something is good, or different, tell us how or why. This implies an element of proof that makes a claim more believable. Certs didn’t tell us they made a better breath mint. They told us why – it had that sparkling drop of resin. (Which was actually a sparkling drop of vegetable oil – but hey – the public bought it!)

  • Make sure the slogan sets the business apart from competitors. If its only meaningful key benefit is one that the competition is already promising, say it differently. Focus on what the customer gets rather than what the business has. For instance, if two local CD shops have similar selections and price structures they could both claim to have the lowest price in town. If one claims “Top Rock at Rock Bottom Prices” then the other could claim “More Hits for Less Cash.”
  • Make sure that the business can live up to the campaign promise (the tag line). Honesty is crucial in advertising. To lie, or even slightly mislead can backfire when a new customer takes the trouble to walk in (a big first step) and finds that things do not live up to what was promised. They will walk right back out, feeling cheated.
  • Make sure that the tag line makes a promise that benefits all major target audiences. A tag line shapes the general theme of an ad campaign, around which all of the ads will be built. Specific targeting comes through individual ads that feature products and or services that benefit a specific sub-group of the business’s market. But the tag line speaks to all the target markets.
  • Don’t try to target everyone. Look at the people who already patronize the business. Is this a group that can be expanded with better ads? Is there a secondary group – perhaps seasonal (Such as men at holidays in lingerie shops, jewelers, etc., or teens in bridal shops at prom time) that might be reasonably expected to do business there? No one business can please everyone so concentrate on those demographic groups of people who are most likely to want what the business has to offer given its location and personality.

Preparing a Flyer for Advertising

Create a Masterpiece that Attracts Anyone’s Attention

Sticking to the basics and double-checking information makes sure that a flyer is noticed by not only the right people but everyone that sees it.

Flyers are everywhere – from a memo at a meeting disguising itself as a flyer to the full-page ad in the Sunday newspaper announcing a spectacular sale. All too often, however, the Flyers are useless, whether it is because they are crammed with information that no one has time to sift through, or because, in some way, the flyer did not grab the attention of the people it was trying to reach.

Stick To The Basics

Think of a flyer as a snapshot – one moment to capture everything vital about an event or object.

Just like the saying, “You don’t get a second chance to make a first impression.”

The flyer is the first impression that will be seen about whatever it is advertising. Therefore, there is really only one chance to get the word out – after that, it is often too late.

Among the things that a flyer is not is a novel. There is approximately 8 ½ by 11 inches on one piece of paper – hardly enough time to write a novel. Instead, use that space to make a grand entrance, and strike up the curiosity of others.

Try the following when preparing a flyer:

  1. Stick to basic colors and formatting – the message of the event is far too important to dress it up with flashing lights and colors. Don’t forget – some people are color-blind, and others may have a seizure disorder set off by certain color combinations. Try colored paper instead.
  2. Keep the message short and sweet – If what is being advertised cannot be announced in five words or less, consider another method of advertisement. Flyers are not designed to spell everything out, but to give a “snapshot” of events or ideas.
  3. Ignite curiosity – If an advertisement is for a garage sale, for instance, it is not necessary to list the inventory. A selling point of flyers is that they are there to ignite the curiosity, not spell out everything word-for-word.
  4. Pictures and photos – A small jpeg or gif clip art or photo in the flyer are fine, as long as it pertains to the purpose of the flyer, but large pictures take away from the meaning and message.
  5. Present correct information – Make sure all information on the flyer is correct and to the point. Nothing is worse than advertising incorrect dates, times, places, or anything else on a flyer.
  6. Contact information – If it is necessary to put contact information on the flyer, such as for an event, then do so. However, the reverse can be true – putting information on a flyer about a garage sale, for example, will only lead to 100+ phone calls for certain items.
  7. Use common sense – Practice common sense when designing and using a flyer. Remember, it’s a snapshot, not a novel. Flashing bells and whistles are not necessary, but a strong, clear message of what is being advertised is.

Flyers Can Be Unbeatable Advertising

Used carefully, and with common sense, a flyer is an unbeatable advertising tool, for anything from a Saturday garage sale to a birthday party. However, sticking to the basics and using a healthy dose of common sense are both paramount in making sure that a flyer reaches the people it was intended to reach in the first place.