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advertising headlines: Attention grabbers make the difference

Copyright 2000 Carol Ann Waugh

Most educational and reference publishers spend between 8-12% of their marketing budget on space advertising. With the advent of all the new dot coms entering the markets, the noise is getting louder and teachers and librarians are being bombarded with more and more advertising messages. So, how do you ensure that your message is being heard above the din? The key is developing a compelling headline.

Advertising headlines are the single most important element in your ad. If it doesn't grab the readers attention, they won't read the rest of the copy, won't know what you are trying to say, and most importantly, won't respond to your offer. Research tells us that less than 1 of 5 readers read on from the headline. This translates into a whopping 80% of readers who are unaffected by your advertising message. Improving your headline can mean the difference between an ad that pulls and one that is simply a waste of money.

The first thing you have to do to write a compelling headline is to put yourself in the shoes of the reader. Who are you trying to reach? A teacher? A librarian? A curriculum coordinator? principal? Clearly defining your target audience is an essential first step because if you don't know who you are talking to, you can't figure out what to say that would "hit their hot button" and make them stop, read on, and respond.

A compelling headline MUST appeal to an immediate need. The immediate need of an elementary school teacher is not the same as the immediate need of a high school librarian. Your headline must also distinguish between "hot prospects" and "warm prospects". Many will see your words –but only a few are truly "hot". And fewer yet are ready to take immediate action.

The five classic approaches to creating a compelling headline are:

  1. Highlight the key benefit of your product or service.
  2. Make a promise
  3. Ask a question
  4. Pose a challenge
  5. Use a testimonial

In one of the best books on advertising, "How to Make Your Advertising Make Money," John Caples documents research uncovered that the ten most frequently-used words in Vic Schwab's "100 Good Headlines and Why They Were So Profitable." Here is a list of the 4 most frequently used words in those headlines:

you (31)
your (14)
how (12)
new (10)

Just for fun, here is a list of headlines that appeared in the October issue of Curriculum Administrator. See if you can identify the headline with the company who placed the ad. Ask yourself these questions: Who is the headline speaking to? What need is being met? What approach are they using? Does the headline contain the important words listed above? Spending time reviewing your competitor's approaches can be a valuable learning experience when it comes to planning your own campaigns!

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How, indeed, can you stand out from all these advertising messages?

This article was written by Carol Ann Waugh, President of Xcellent Marketing, a marketing and new business development firm specializing in the educational and library market. Xcellent Marketing offers a variety of marketing services to help publishers increase their revenues and profits from identifying new markets, providing critiques of web sites and marketing communications such as direct mail, catalogs, advertisements, etc. as well as developing effective traditional as well as Internet-based marketing plans. Carol can be reached at (303) 388-5215 or at


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