There are many great books on copywriting – and on writing headlines. Some, like Andy Maslen’s ‘Write to Sell‘ entered the world quite recently. Others, like Victor O. Schwab’s ‘How to Write a Good Advertisement – A Short Course in Copywriting‘ have been gracing the bookshelves of copywriters and ad agencies for many years.
What are the principles of a great headline?
In fact, looking at the inside cover of my well-thumbed copy of Schwab’s book, How to Write a Good Advertisement, 2012 marked its 50th year in print. Great timing, then, for a reminder of the principles of great headlines, according to the man himself.
This is taken from the chapter, ‘Get Attention – How important is the headline?’
Worth recounting is the story of Max Hart (of Hart, Schaffner & Marx) and his advertising manager, the late and great George L. Dyer. They were arguing about long copy. To clinch the argument Mr. Dyer said, “I’ll bet you $10 I can write a newspaper page of solid type and you’d read every word of it.”
Mr. Hart scoffed at the idea. “I don’t have to write a line of it to prove my point,” Mr. Dyer responded. “I’ll only tell you the headline. That would be “This page is all about Max Hart!”
How to Write a Good Advertisement – A Short Course in Copywriting by Victor O. Schwab
Your headlines have to work hard. Really hard.
The main job of any headline is to get the reader to read the copy that follows it. Its purpose is to stop the reader from turning the page, from walking away, from switching the channel or from tuning out from what you want to say.
If you can craft a headline that speaks directly to your reader, that addresses his concerns or promises him a benefit in a way that’s so personal you might as well have shouted out his name across a crowded room – then you’re on to a winner.