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If Your Headline Sucks, You’re Screwed

Welcome to advertising. PR. Journalism. All communication really.

Did the headline grab you? If not, chances are you wouldn’t have gotten this far.

A savvy blog post from 2007 made its rounds on Twitter today, preaching the necessity to capture one’s audience with an attention-grabbing headline.

Sure, we’ve been told in journalism, PR and advertising classes again and again to snag attention with headlines.  “If your headline is boring, why am I going to want to read your [copy, article, pitch]?,” you may have heard a professor rhetorically ask.

John Jantsch (the blog’s author and author of Duct Tape Marketing – The World’s Most Practical Small Business Marketing Guide) argues that the headline is an ad’s best opportunity to reach the consumer and if it doesn’t happen within the first three seconds, the chance is probably lost forever.  Jantsch says:

“It is a scientifically proven fact that 5 times as many people read headlines as read the body copy of an ad. So with the headline, an advertiser has spent about 80% of their advertising dollar. It doesn’t take a genius to realize then the headline is the most important part of any ad.”

80%?  Wow, that’s a lot of money riding a quick one-liner.  If you think about it, the headline is like the pitch within the pitch.  But that’s the challenge we encounter every day as communicators.  Will a newspaper choose your story pitch if the headline bores them?  Probably not, and perhaps more likely, the journalist won’t read your entire news release.  Will Mr. Newspaper subscriber read your story if they yawn while reading the title?  Likely not.  The same works for ads.  As Jantsch later says, if the reader isn’t ensnared in the first few seconds, they’ve already turned the page.

Not surprisingly, this made me more cognizant of what I read today.  Most days I sift through what I’ll read and not read subconsciously.  But today there were a few examples that gripped me right away from the headline.  And you know what?  I usually read the “body copy” or full article in these cases as a result:

ACC Screws Itself – Wow, that’s harsh.  Can you say that?  You have my attention.  How?  Why?  Tell me!

Spam. Spam. Spam. Spam. – I expected this article to be about everyone’s favorite canned meat. That, and the article was on the front page of the New York Times site.  What’s so important with Spam right now?  And four mentions in the title alone?  Well turns out the article was about spam emails on PDAs in Iraq.  Not the most enthralling topic, but the repetition and urgency of the headline got me there.

Uncovered!  The Unseemly Side of Quilts – Quilts have an unseemly side?  What on earth?  I thought they were just blankets that sat on your couch unused until the day you’re too lazy to get up and turn up the thermostat when you’re cold and watching TV.  I’m intrigued…

Dozing Employee Wants Her Job Back – So she wants to work again so she can sleep and get paid for it?  Of course she wants her job back, but can she get it?  So many questions.

What was the last headline that grabbed you?  Why do you think it did so?

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