Get it right— headlines matter

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Even in what some would claim is a post-literate time, words still have meaning. So make them count, because audiences actually pay attention to them.

But they won't if the copy and headlines—or both—are rendered meaningless through overuse, or if they merely sound significant but lack any real content. Kill the clichés and platitudes in favor of phrases that are original, relevant and have impact.

Readers will quickly dismiss a message if they sense they've heard it all before. In advertising, the conversation often begins in the headline, which is an awful place to introduce the trivial.

It's for that reason that we were unenthusiastic about an ad for United HealthCare Services that greets readers with this headline: “Your business is the backbone of America. And we've got your back.” Sound familiar? Of course. The “I've/we've got your back” is a line that's ready for the advertising graveyard.

The cliché headline is especially unfortunate because it risks driving readers away from the kind of copy we have long advocated—brisk and personal-sounding thanks to frequent use of personal pronouns like “you,” “your” and “our.” United HealthCare speaks person-to-person to business decision-makers about the advantages of its services.

Although the headline in an ad for Tata Communications is neither a cliché nor a platitude, it just falls flat: “Profit from growing globalization.” It lacks originality and impact because it fails to hint at Tata's selling proposition. The all-text ad offers nothing more than a series of words and phrases that we have all heard before, such as “solutions for the new world,” “newly emerging markets” and the “world's farthest-reaching network.”

An ad is an opportunity to tell a story, but this execution is nothing but bland-sounding bullets and blurbs that left us wondering what it is that Tata does. The tagline is of no help either, as it states: “Taking you farther.” For all we know, Tata is an airline.

RBC is a bank. We learn that in the logo that dominates the top of this ad for Royal Bank Canada. Selling the source before selling the service is a Chasers no-no, but that's grist for another column. (Hint: Put the logo at the bottom.) Our concern here is that the headline—“Performance to move forward”—offers nothing unique or original.

The copy does a better job of it by noting that RBC has weighed in with a return on equity of 20% over the past five years, which allows the bank to strengthen its client relationships through expertise, insight and proven execution. All good stuff, but the uninspired headline won't drive much traffic into the message.

We'll close with a couple of headlines that effectively convey a message. The New York law firm Nixon Peabody presents the image of a man wondering if he's getting a fair shake from his attorneys. States the headline: “I need lawyers who are more concerned about managing my risks than their own.” The copy follows through on the smartly worded headline by reassuring readers that Nixon Peabody makes clients its top priority. This was a much more original way of saying the customer comes first.

In a Samsung ad, the headline: “Less energy. More memory.” concisely conveys the company's selling proposition that its memory chip packs can make customers more productive. The image of the elephant atop a memory chip pairs nicely with the headline. It was an original, high-impact way of underscoring the point that Samsung offers customers a competitive advantage. The copy does a fine job of highlighting such benefits as speed and energy efficiency.

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