Making a headline do the hard work

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Good headlines can both tell and sell. ¶ Some headlines pose questions and some play on words. There's a time and a place for both of those types, but there's usually nothing more effective than the headline that manages to say it all. ¶ Headlines, of course, are enormously important. They command attention. They instantly explain why an audience should care, and they can often complement the ad's dominant visual. The trick is not to overstay your welcome. Headlines need to be succinct. Leave the supporting narrative for the copy. Let's take a look at some headlines that both tell and sell starting with an ad for the U.S. Postal Service. The audience is drawn into a generic scene featuring a group of executives doing business in a conference room. It's impossible to determine what they're talking about, but the headline says: “With us, your shipping service begins long before you ship your package.” Although the headline strikes us as a bit small, its message is on the mark. It tells readers about the USPS' shipping service and sells readers on it by suggesting some value-added advantages: “ ... service begins long before you ship your package.” The copy follows up on the headline's promise by detailing such features as reliable overnight and two-day shipping, as well as a variety of customized solutions including free package pickup and free packaging. IBM Corp. gets right in the face of an audience of banking decision-makers with a powerful, eye-catching headline: “Stop thinking like a bank. Start thinking like a customer.” A nattily attired banker peers, curious, from an arched window of his fortress-like building, perhaps in search of a solution to his operational problems. Having seized the audience's attention with the compelling headline that suggests the benefit of a stronger customer orientation and with an intriguing image, the ad's copy moves in for the kill: “IBM is helping banks reduce the time it takes to open an account to minutes rather than hours or even days. Institutions can now have a full view of their customers across business units, making the overall customer experience faster, easier and much more convenient.” The copy does a solid job of backing up the benefits suggested in the headline. The headline in an ad for the Ethanol Promotion and Information Council is so direct that readers could dispense with a visit to the copy block and still absorb the central message. States the headline: “In the middle of this whole oil mess, ethanol is a bright spot.” The headline tells readers a story they're quite familiar with, the problems associated with importing foreign oil, while selling them on an alternative—ethanol. There's nothing subtle about the headline for SecureWorks: “Your next attacker will be highly motivated. Fortunately so are we.” This is an effective headline because it warns chief security officers against a possible disruption or loss of their network, and sells them on the promise that SecureWorks can help them resist an attack. The art director did a fine job of setting the stage for the hard-hitting headline and copy by reversing the text against a background that accompanies the image of a building at night with only a single office illuminated. A headline that didn't work for us is this one from CA: “GYCAETGIAMN.” It resembles an optometrist's eye chart. For those willing to read the parenthetical material beneath the headline, it says: “Get Your Company Agile Enough To Grow In A Moment's Notice.” Clever headlines are great, but this is a gimmicky headline that wastes valuable space. Smart advertisers make every word count in a headline because it's where the telling and the selling begin. M
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