Get a head start with headlines

Sell the sizzle not the steak! Know the benefit of the benefit.

What would make you shell out money to buy a product? What is the Reason Why or what is the‘Benefit of the benefit that you feel is reason enough to buy a product or service.

People are not looking for a TV - they want to enhance their viewing pleasure; they are looking for features; they are looking for so on and so forth. Got it! You decide which is important to your target audience.

Working on brands

Normally in big agencies you have a Creative Director (CD) or Senior Copywriter who works out the USP and the team of junior copywriters normally work on the headlines. But, in smaller agencies you have to do all the research. Isn’t it good – using your grey cells more, plus it will be easier when you work with big brands.

Personally I have thought of every job as a big brand and gone through the same process; sometimes as a freelancer I was given the visual and asked to work on the headline! It can be challenging and you can't complain since often you are not available as the brief is taken or the artwork  worked out! And, yet, you get amazing results with a chemistry or team work!

Toothpaste Brand - Colgate

Let’s take toothpaste as an example to understand the art of writing headlines. Yes there is a connect - I mean to the art of writing! Why do we buy one brand of toothpaste over other brands! It is the benefit of the benefit (yes i am repeating myself!). It could be fresh breath to a target audience of younger people. Colgate used the freshness hook or as the unique sales proposition (USP). Pepsodent hit on germs. As consumers we buy the one that fits our need the best.

As a Copywriter or creative professional, you have to be sure what this perceived benefit will be for the target consumer. What is the position in the heads of the consumers’ mind that your product fits best? Is it - as in the case of Colgate toothpaste - fresh breath, tooth decay, toothache, clean, white teeth or calcium? Can you think of a new position?  How about ‘wakes you up’ or 'feel fresh and awake' after brushing. Others need a cuppa bed tea/coffee before! Guess what could be the USP - this is the benefit of the benefit? Post it in the comments.


The challenge today is that with so many products and so many choices in the same product group there is very little space in the mind of a consumer and therefore finding one that will work like Colgate Active Salt has used the salt in your toothpaste with the benefit that salt has the perceived benefit of killing germs and keeps gums strong(this is just an example, it doesn’t mean I use the toothpaste or that you are using the product. So also with Colgate Total - it is positioned as 12 hour protection from various dental problems. If you have noticed - one product and so many positions are taken up by the same company.

Once you have got your positioning and USP bang on you have to work on the benefit of the benefit - only then should you get serious about writing your headline. Of course, do not stop any gems that flow on the way – they will come in useful.

Just remember:
  • Do not sacrifice quality for trying to write a clever headline! Express your idea even if it takes more words.
  • Sometimes brevity is necessary, yet, see that your reason why is expressed in an interesting manner!
  • Similarly, when a short headline is apt or when the size of the ad is small. Or the visual chosen needs just a few words -as Nike says…just do it!
  • See that the meaning is clear. For instance David dropped Goliath either David picked Goliath and threw him down. It could also mean David knocked out Goliath or David felled Goliath (John Caples)!!
  • Check my book here.


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