Use your headline to hook readers

By Published on .

Good headlines come at you head-on. They immediately highlight the selling proposition. They promise a reward. They alert readers to something new. They match up with the visual. They select the right audience. They draw the reader into the most essential part of the advertiser's message-the copy. But one more thing: If the headline promises a reward or trumpets something new, the copy, the art or both had better back things up.

Writing such gems seems to be asking a lot of the copywriter. But the headline is critical. If it misfires, the rest of the ad's handiwork may be for naught.

Intel gets to the heart of the matter with this headline: "The server of choice just got better." Although Intel resists touting its own name in the headline, it's obvious the chipmaker is talking about itself. That's fine so long as the back-patting in the headline is supported in the rest of the ad. In this case it is.

The lead-in graf reads: "Introducing the Intel Xeon processor with support for 32-bit and 64-bit applications." A series of oval-shaped images stripped across the bottom of the ad supports the headline's claim that Intel's server platform is now better. One image notes that there are improved power-saving options; another indicates that the memory is more flexible.

We're fond of headlines that are specific as to the reward being dangled before the reader. Sun Microsystems makes the selling proposition for its Sun Fire servers more memorable by quantifying the reward in the headline: "76% faster because we're committed to building business systems. (Not cute MP3 players, printers, and cameras.)" In the subhead, Sun repeats its claim of speed and adds that its servers cost 35% less than the competition's. Those kind of hard-and-fast numbers should get the attention of a chief information officer, the target audience.

The visual consists of nothing more than the sleek, gray server set against a blue background. The workmanlike copy reinforces the headline and deck: "Sun delivers extreme performance at an unbeatable price. Choose the 2-way Sun Fire V20z server or the 4-way Sun Fire V40z server, and you'll get the advanced power and flexibility of the AMD Opteron 800 or 200 series processor ... ." The product is the hero, but so is the headline, which carries the day for Sun.

Citrix employs a testimonial headline to help sell its software. "We couldn't have been happier with the 35% increased productivity Citrix gave our 28,900 users. Until they reduced our internal IT costs by 35%." The headline is accompanied by the dot-screen image of Reiner Schmitt, IT manager for SAP AG. He looks pretty pleased, by the way.

The combination of the testimonial and the quantifiable reward makes for a powerful and memorable headline. Copy goes on to support the premise that Citrix software can provide collaborative business solutions that translate to substantial savings. Citrix offers to further support its claims by inviting readers to visit its Web site. That's a tack that smart advertisers take routinely these days.

Symantec cuts to the chase with a headline targeting value-added resellers: "Increase your odds of making a sale by 500%." Copy immediately backs up the headline's bold promise: "It's simple multiplication: five different appliances to protect just about any kind of customer that needs protecting. Small business or big enterprise, gateway or network, Symantec can secure any and all with a range of integrated and purpose-built appliances." The only problem is that the white-type headline is superimposed on an image of an office building, making it somewhat difficult to read.

In the end, there may be a place in b-to-b advertising for the clever, impressionistic headline that relies on wordplay or borrowed interest. But such headlines are riskier because they don't say immediately to the reader, "Hey, this is for you." M

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