Monday, October 28, 2013

The Fix is In - What You Need to Know Before Making Your Next Ad or PR Move

I love being on the cutting edge. I always want the latest tech gadget from Apple, and I’m always looking at the newest stuff being worked on in Silicon Valley. But sometimes the oldies really are the goodies. 

In this case I’m referring to old ideas about advertising. They may be old, but they are sure on the mark. And the man who devised them spent a career spanning over six decades testing and refining them. I’d like to share some of them with you here.

Salesmanship in Print

Selling a product, service or idea in print is not, after all, much different then selling it face to face. Some call it “salesmanship in print.” You have to make an opening pitch to draw the customer’s attention. This is the headline, title or cover of your ad or marketing piece.

Experience and testing have shown over and over the overwhelmingly critical importance of having an effective headline. In fact, did you know that as much as 80% of the “pulling power” of an ad is determined is determined by the effectiveness of the headline (cover, etc.)?

Yup. That means eighty cents of every dollar spent on advertising is going into the headline. And years of trial and error have shown what types of headlines are most effective. Since we know this with such certainty, you’d think that advertisers would spend some extra effort to make sure that their headlines actually work. You’d be wrong. Flipping through any magazine or newspaper you’ll see many ads that fail to make use of this vital information.

So what is this magic formula for good headlines, and why don’t more people use it?

What’s In a Headline

Among the best pulling types of headlines are those that feature some type of news. E.g. “New!” “Announcing!” “Coming Soon!” As cheesy as they sound, they let readers know that there may be something new in the ad - something that may possibly interest them. And so they are drawn into the copy.

Another powerful draw are headlines that promise savings - “Sale!” “All Merchandise Marked Down!” “End of Year Savings Blowout!!!” Are they classy and chic? No. But they sure get results!

A third strong headline is one that addresses a specific problem. “Do You Suffer from Migraines?” “Do You Think Allergy Season is Stay-in-Bed Season?” “Is Your Basement Musty?” These types of headlines quickly qualify interested customers - only those with a particular problem will continue reading, and will very likely be interested in a solution. They can also be modified to be a little more imaginative - “Don’t Let this Allergy Season Keep You Down for the Count!”

Related to this idea are headlines that promise a solution to a problem. “Bedbugs? Call Us.” “Overweight? We Can Help.” “Learn to Speak a Foreign Language in 30 Days.” The appeal is obvious. Anyone with a need for the product will be attracted to the ad.

An additional factor to consider is the kind of words you use. They should be as simple and direct as possible. In one well-known example, an ad for a do-it-yourself car repair course saw a dramatic increase in sales simply by changing the phrase “Learn How to Repair Your Car” to “Learn How to Fix Your Car.” ‘Repair’ sounded complicated and hard, but ‘Fix’ was easy!

Hello? Is Anyone Listening?

If advertisements are “salesmanship in print” then they have to follow the pattern of a real sales conversation. The headline is the opening, but then you have to deliver the rest of your pitch.

After all, if you were trying to sell something in person, you wouldn’t give the customer a big smile and a handshake, look them in the eye and not say anything - would you? The rest of the copy has to do the job that you would do if you were there yourself. Spell out the benefits that your product will provide - its ease of use, economy, attractive, modern design, and how much pleasure it will give anyone who owns it. Sound corny? Maybe. But it works. 

The balance of the ad copy must follow this strategy. It should anticipate reasonable objections someone might raise, and deal with them effectively. “$299.99? Isn’t that a lot for an automatic napkin folder?” says the imaginary reader. To this you could write, “$299.99 might seem like an awful lot of money for such a simple device. But when you think of the convenience and the admiring looks from your family and friends for your elegant table settings, you’ll realize that the cost is very reasonable indeed! And we offer a convenient payment plan - just six easy payments of $50 per month. In addition, for a limited time, if you order the Acme Automatic Napkin Folder you’ll receive a handsome set of eight monogrammed linen napkins, trimmed in lace and taffeta, with exquisite gold embroidery. They’ll look fabulous on any table and transform your ordinary dinner table into 5-star elegance!”

A well known copywriter used to say that the purpose of the headline is to get you to read the subhead. The purpose of the subhead is to get you to read the first line of copy. The purpose of the first line of copy? You guessed it. To get you to read the next line. And so on and on. The entire ad should be constructed to draw in a reader, just as you would in a live conversation, keeping the reader interested and engaged until the very end.

Feelings - Wo, Wo, Wo, Feelings…

The key is to place the emphasis on benefits - what the product will do for the customer - and not necessarily what the product does. I know it sounds counter-intuitive, but it’s true. Most people care much less about how a Mercedes Benz works then they do about how it will make them feel to own it.

You’re selling feelings and not goods and services. If it’s a piece of equipment, you may actually be selling security, pride, ego gratification, or some combination of the three. But never just equipment.

In future articles I hope to go into some of these ideas in greater detail.

I’d love to hear what you think!

Danny Kay is a marketing and advertising professional as well as a designer and photographer with over 25 years of experience. He's worked with businesses and organizations of all sizes, up to Fortune 500.
He can be reached through his website,, or at

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