Great Headlines make GREAT ads

August 9, 2007

The following was taken from Ogilvy on Advertising, a book I highly recommend to everyone in the profession:

The shortage of print know-how presents a serious problem to cigarette manufacturers and others who are not allowed to use television. It also presents a golden opportunity for copywriters and art directors who take the trouble to acquire the know-how.


On the average, five times as many people read the headlines as read the body copy. It follows that unless your headline sells your product, you [the advertiser] have wasted 90 percent of your money.

The headlines which work best are those which promise the reader a benefit – like whiter wash, more miles per gallon, freedom from pimples, fewer cavities. Riffle through a magazine and count the number of ads whose headlines promise a benefit of any kind.

‘News’ headlines are ‘sure-fire’ winners

Headlines which contain ‘news’ are sure-fire. The news can be the announcement of a new product, an improvement in an old product, or a new way to use an old product – like serving Campbell’s Soup on the rocks. On the average, ads with news are recalled by 22 per cent more people than ads without news.

If you are lucky enough to have some news to tell, don’t bury it in your body copy, which nine out of ten people will not read. State it loud and clear in your headline. And don’t scorn tried-and-true words like ‘amazing, introducing, now, suddenly’.

Headlines that offer the reader helpful information, like HOW TO WIN FRIENDS AND INFLUENCE PEOPLE, attract above average readership.

Include a Brand Name in your headline

I advise you to include the brand name in your headline. If you don’t, 80 per cent of readers (who don’t read your body copy) will never know what product you are advertising. If you are advertising a kind of product that is only bought by a small group of people, put a word in your headline which will flag them down, like ‘asthma, bedwetters, women over thirty-five’.

Starch [Starch Readership Service] reports that headlines with more than ten words get less readership than short headlines. On the other hand, a study of retail advertisements found that headlines of ten words sell more merchandise than short headlines. Conclusion: if you need a long headline, go ahead and write one, and if you want a short headline, that’s all right too. The famous headline ‘Lemon’ contributed a lot to the success of Volkswagen in the United States.

Be specific…

Specifics work better than generalities. When research reported that the average shopper thought Sears Roebuck made an average profit of 37 per cent on sales, I headlined an advertisement ‘Sears makes a profit of 5 per cent’. This specific was more persuasive than saying that ‘Sears’ profit was less than you might suppose’, or something equally vague.

When you put your headline in quotes, you increase recall by an average of 28 per cent.

When you advertise in newspapers, you get better results if you include the name of each city in your headline. People are most interested in what is happening where they live.


Tricky headlines are a no no

Some copywriters write tricky headlines – double meanings, puns and other obscurities. This is counter-productive. In the average newspaper your headline has to compete with 350 others. Readers travel fast through this jungle. Your headline should telegraph what you want to say.

Some headlines are blind. They don’t say what the product is, or what it will do for you. They are about 20 per cent below average in recall.

Some headlines, more than anything else, decide the success or failure of an advertisement, the silliest thing of all is to run an ad without any headline at all –‘ a headless wonder.’

Even though this book was written in 1983, it is a classic and is well worth adding to your library. Ogilvy knows what he is talking about. See, what is arguably called the best print ad of all time, his classic Rolls Royce advertisement here.