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Writing Ad Headlines: Surprise and Persuade

Updated on June 11, 2014
My Poster Invite For West End Hotel's Paradise Island
My Poster Invite For West End Hotel's Paradise Island | Source

Writing Headlines That Surprise

Some headlines have 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.

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

Sometimes our Chef refuses to make your favourite 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 favourite 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.

A Headline That Surprises And Persuades
A Headline That Surprises And Persuades | Source

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.

Example:

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.

An Ad Headline That Persuades
An Ad Headline That Persuades | Source

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 the 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 tankfulls.

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 of the testimonial approach by writing in 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.

Advertising Headlines That Make You Rich

David Ogilvy

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