Monthly Archives: April 2013

What makes a great advertising headline?

One myth that needs to be nailed into a lead coffin and buried at least six feet under right now is this one: good advertising headlines involve a pun.

Where this nonsense actually originated I have no idea, but practically every junior creative team I come across (and far too many senior ones as well) seem to think that all you have to do to create a great print ad is write a pun. Their portfolios are full of them. The press is full of them.

My own theory is that this misguided belief stems from a lack of understanding that a great headline depends on a great thought.

A great headline contains a great idea that resonates with the reader. And if it’s a great thought, it doesn’t really matter how you write it—the actual words you use are secondary to the idea it encapsulates.

Or, as any good copywriter knows, WHAT you say is always much more important than HOW you say it.

Think of the famous Rolls Royce press ad: “At 60 mph the loudest noise in this new Rolls Royce comes from the electric clock”. 

This headline contains a beautifully engaging thought.

The feature it’s communicating is simply that this car is unbelievably quiet.  But to turn this feature into a headline that emotionally resonates with the potential buyer, the headline brings it to life—by painting a word-picture that puts the reader right there in the sumptuous, leather-clad driving seat. You can almost hear the delicate tick of the clock as you read it.

But because the line has a strong idea, you could actually write it in any number of ways and it would still be just as powerful.

It’s what the headline is about that counts.

The lazy headline writer who simply looks for a pun has failed to grasp this basic truth and believes that the HOW is more important than the WHAT. So they aim for what they think is amusing wordplay instead of doing the much, much harder job of finding a fantastically engaging thought that brings to life a clear, relevant and hopefully unique, product benefit.

Learn the awesome power of The So What Test

When I’m training bright-eyed, bushy-tailed young creatives how to create effective advertising, or telling junior clients how to evaluate and comment on creative work, I often tell them about the power of The So What Test.

It’s all about making sure that your copy and concept is relevant and interesting to the target audience. If they’re going to read it and say, “Yeah, but so what?” your ad or mailer or flyer or website or e-newsletter will fail.

The So What Test is a remarkably useful tool to have in your utility belt—it’s so easy to get wrapped up in your finely-crafted headline and beautiful imagery that you don’t notice it means diddly squat to the people who are supposed to be engaged and captivated by your sales message.

Clearly the people who produced, and bought, the new BMW press ad didn’t perform the So What test.

The headline of this cracker is, wait for it, DESIGNED TO MOVE. (In capital letters, too.)

This is an advertisement for a car. A high performance, expensive, beautifully engineered German sports saloon, coveted by sales reps everywhere.

And the best headline they could come up with to sell you this car was “Designed to move”. As against a car that’s designed to stay still? A car designed to be a permanent museum exhibit? A car made entirely of butterflies wings so delicate that to simply breathe upon it would spell disaster?

The idiocy of this headline is jaw-dropping enough on its own. But the copy carries on in the same vein. It reads as if the writer has never seen a BMW, has never been given any information about why one might want to drop twenty grand on one, has no clue why a BMW might be any different from any other thing that’s designed to move.  Like a pram. Or a slug.

And to add insult to injury the copy includes the seemingly obligatory, utterly lame pun. Apparently BMW are jolly committed to “…deliver the The Ultimate Driving Machine. It’s the only thing we won’t be moved on.”

It’s not clever, it’s not witty. In fact, it doesn’t even make sense.

It’s a junior copywriter labouring (although clearly very little labour was involved) under the delusion that good copy is that which contains a pun, no matter how mind-blowingly crap it is.

‘So what’ doesn’t even begin to cover it.