Learn to write headlines at the grocery store!

Glamour MagazineYou can read books, attend seminars, and study famous ads to learn how to write headlines.

Or you can just go to the grocery store.

Standing in the checkout line, you will see some of the best examples of headline writing on the covers of popular magazines. Why? Because these publishers know that to sell magazines, they have to capture your attention fast. So the top magazines have become very, very good at writing headlines.

Now for the record, I don’t read these magazines. But my wife does. And she squirrels them away all over the house. So I have a massive collection to dive into when I’m looking for some inspiration.

Here are some good examples from two Glamour magazine covers:

PSSST! Why guys love your body exactly as is – Read their head-to-toe lust list on p. 220


Find your best birth control – Intimate advice you’ll never hear from your doctor

Men’s new sexual needs – Thanks for sharing, guys!


Major beauty miracles! All the skin and hair secrets you’ve been begging us for

10 things no woman should feel guilty about

Most of these are “fascinations,” a type of headline that acts as a teaser. Each headline promises interesting information, but reveals nothing about the content. Notice the specifics, alliteration, and rhythm.

Also notice the double whammy of headlines such as “Major beauty miracles! All the skin and hair secrets you’ve been begging us for.” This is typeset as a two-part headline, the first part to grab your attention and the second part to give you more detail.

Not all headlines should be written like this. There are many other approaches. But when you’re looking for ideas and inspiration, go shopping. Major magazine editors have turned provocative headline writing into an art form.

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Does negative advertising work?

Yes. No. Well, sometimes.

Whether negative advertising works depends on who you ask. Ask a political campaign manager, and the answer is yes. Ask an product advertising manager, and the answer is no. Usually.

I’m thinking about this for two reasons:

One, the current election season is producing some very negative advertising. And if you think national politics gets nasty, watch the local races. That’s where the gloves really come off.

Two, Apple has been running some negative TV advertising for a few years that actually works. While these are not direct response ads, they are instructive.

The rule of thumb is that negative advertising doesn’t work. Why? In Scientific Advertising, Claude Hopkins said it best:

To attack a rival is never good advertising. Don’t point out others’ faults. It is not permitted in the best mediums. It is never good policy. The selfish purpose is apparent. It looks unfair, not sporty.

If you abhor knockers, always appear a good fellow.

Show a bright side, the happy and attractive side, not the dark and uninviting side of things. Show beauty, not homeliness; health, not sickness. Don’t show the wrinkles you propose to remove, but the face as it will appear. Your customers know all about wrinkles.

In addition to making you look petty, negative advertising puts your prospects in the wrong frame of mind, gets them thinking about your competitor instead of you, and fails to make the positive emotional connection that is the linchpin for any sales pitch. Read more

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11 freelance tips for earning like a pro

freelance tipsWhat’s the difference between high-earning freelancers and all other freelancers? For the most part, the high earners have a professional mindset.

And what does that mean?

It means making a shift from the paycheck mentality to the professional mentality. Here are 11 tips for doing just that.

1. Think like a professional. Whether you want to earn a little extra income on the side or go full-blown freelance pro, you should consider yourself in the same class as all other professionals, worthy of the same respect and income.

2. Ignore most of the advice from the freelance “industry.” Many magazines, books, and online sources give bad advice for those wanting to make money at freelancing. You must carefully weigh the advice you get, choosing to follow only what you know will further your business interests.

3. Politely disregard the advice from friends and family. Everyone thinks they’re an expert, even those who have never freelanced before. But you have to avoid seeking emotional support and start seeking success. If someone gives you advice, look at how much money they’re making from their own freelancing, if any. If they’re no better off than you, smile, nod politely, and promptly forget what they say.

4. Think long term and never give up. It will probably take 3 to 5 years to establish a profitable clientele and to get comfortable with your new business. Many freelancers simply give up too soon. Make a commitment to persist against all odds and slowly grow your business over the next few years. Easier said than done. But persistence pays off.

5. Offer special expertise. You must offer clients unique knowledge, experience, or skill in some area besides the physical task you perform.

For example, if you’re a writer, what expertise do you have in addition to writing? Perhaps you work in the PR department of a hospital, or you have a few years of volunteer experience raising funds for a nonprofit, or you’ve written a number of successful radio commercials, or you have a chemical engineering degree. Whatever it is, your specialty gives you the edge you need to a) differentiate yourself from all other writers, b) narrow your market and find the right clients, and c) charge higher, professional-level fees.

Neither your technical skills nor your special knowledge is enough by itself. Put them together, however, and you have the edge you need. Read more

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Are you a versatile freelancer?

One mistake novice freelance copywriters make is to think of themselves as “writers.”

It’s an understandable error. Usually, those who get into this profession are people with a background in writing. They see freelancing as a way to write and actually get paid decent money for it.

But freelancing is really a service business. You provide a service (copywriting) to various companies, not because they want writing, but because they need copy to help them sell products and services.

Once you make that little mental adjustment, you realize that if you can provide one service, you can also provide other services. This is what most businesses do and it’s what you should do as well.

Versatile FreelancerThat’s the premise of a new book by Don Hauptman, one of the most respected copywriters in the industry. The book is called The Versatile Freelancer: How Writers and Other Creative Professionals Can Generate More Income by Seizing New Opportunities in Critiquing, Consulting, Training, and Presenting.

Don shows a variety of ways that copywriters, or any type of freelancer, can make extra money using the core knowledge and skill they have as writers.

For example, Don starts out by talking about “critiquing,” which is a service I’ve offered my clients for many years. This is both practical and timely, given today’s tough economy.

Sometimes a client wants to work with you but doesn’t have the budget to pay your full copywriting fee. By offering a critique of ads, brochures, Web sites, direct mail, or other items, you can provide a valuable service at a lower cost. I’ve also found that it’s a good way to “audition” for some clients. Once they see how helpful your critique is, they feel less risk in hiring you for your premium services.

Don also covers public speaking, training, giving seminars, and other services, with lots of specifics and personal anecdotes about how he used these ideas in his long and successful career.

What I think you’ll enjoy just as much as the sound advice is Don’s writing style. He’s a master wordsmith and a well-known author of books on language and wordplay. I guarantee, Don agonized over every word to make The Versatile Freelancer a joy to read.

CLICK HERE to find out more and order your own copy.

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Ad copywriting tip: Tell an interesting story

Some of the best advertisements are built around a story.

This is an advanced copywriting technique and takes a deft hand to pull off, so I don’t recommend it to novice copywriters. But when you can do it convincingly, it’s a thing of beauty.

Here’s an ad I ran across while rifling through some folders this morning. This is probably too small to read, but you can click on it to download a PDF image of the entire ad.

print ad copywriting

Let’s take a look at a few things that make this ad work. Read more

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Boost response by positioning your offer

In direct marketing, everything is built around offers. In fact, to create a true direct response ad in any medium, you must do 3 specific things:

  1. Make an offer.
  2. Provide sufficient information to accept the offer.
  3. Provide an easy means of responding to the offer.

So, in any direct mail piece or ad, the offer is the heart of the message. But while a rose may be a rose, an offer is not an offer.

An offer is more than a fixed monetary exchange. A 50% discount is not the same as “buy one widget, get the second widget free.” In dollar terms, these are identical. But how you position this deal creates different perceptions and different response rates.

Offer positioning is a vital step in the copywriting process. And businesses should be open to suggestions for more powerful ways to position offers.

Let’s look at an example.

Imagine you have a magazine subscription offer. The magazine sells for $3 an issue and 12 monthly issues are $36. The publisher wants to test a price reduction of 50%. Here are a few ways you can position this offer:

This is more than wordsmithing. Buyers perceive each of these offer positions differently, each with a unique perceived value.

And what’s the value of testing different ways to position your offer? Better response. For example, most tests show that a “buy one get one free” offer will beat a “half off offer.” Why? Greater perceived value. Getting something free carries more psychological weight than saving money, even when the monetary value is identical. “Free” is easier to understand and more tangible that a percentage savings, which is an intellectual mathematical concept.

The takeaway? Don’t accept your offer at face value. Try different ways to position the offer to make it feel more valuable.

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Branding vs. selling: Which is more important?

Branding has not traditionally played a big part in the creation of direct mail, ads, and other forms of direct response advertising. That’s because direct marketing is all about selling directly to consumers and relies less on product recognition than retail marketing.

In recent years, however, as direct marketing has become mainstream and is now being used by businesses that sell through multiple channels, branding has become more important.

People like me who work on the front lines creating direct response advertising have to deal with clients who want to sell but who also demand adherence to branding guidelines, usually in the form of font, color, and graphic specifications.

It can be a difficult juggling act. The guidelines may be simple, requiring only the use of a logo, or difficult, enforcing highly restrictive design rules that curtail selling techniques.

When branding guidelines become too restrictive, it can hurt sales. Years ago, I began working with one of the top communications companies, helping them sell products and services such as DSL and long distance. I decided to break out of the overly restrictive branding guidelines and create mailers that I thought would sell better.

This didn’t go over well with others in the company and I received many complaints about the “look” of my mailers. However the response rates were high. In one effort, I created a self-mailer that met the annual call generation goal within 9 weeks. So I was allowed to continue.

Eventually, my “ugly” mailers provoked the branding department so much, I was asked to test a “pretty” and properly branded mailer. I did. The ugly mailer won hands down. Read more

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The power of color in direct marketing

Color is one of the most powerful elements of design for direct mail, ads, and other marketing materials.

color in direct mail and adsWhy? Because color is a form of nonverbal communication. Research has shown that color increases brand identity, assists in memory, increases a reader’s participation in ads, and improves readership, learning, and comprehension.

This is a complicated subject and is worthy of a dozen posts, but I’d like to cover just three important points about why color choice is so important.

Color carries meaning through association.

This meaning can be divided into two parts: natural associations and psychological or cultural associations.

By “natural association” I mean that colors bring to mind certain ideas that everyone understands. For example, green is associated with nature because that’s the primary color of plants everywhere in the world. Blue is associated with the sky. Yellow is associated with the sun. These associations are simple and universal.

Psychological or cultural associations are more tricky. In the U.S., orange is associated with Halloween because pumpkins are a big part of that holiday. But since many other cultures don’t celebrate this particular holiday, that association doesn’t exist. Likewise, while black is associated with death in the West, white is often the death color in other cultures. Read more

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Is it junk mail if you say it ain’t so?

What should you do if you’re worried about people thinking your mailer is junk mail? How about just telling them it’s not junk mail?

The copywriter for one hearing aid company simply used a teaser that said “THIS IS NOT JUNK MAIL!!!”

not junk mail

Is this an effective way to get people to read your mailer? I think not.

First, what objection is this intended to address? Surveys show people actually like direct mail and respond to it. Assuming you’re mailing to a targeted list of likely customers and that you have a compelling message and strong offer, recipients should be open to learning more about your product.

Second, telling people your mailing is not junk mail doesn’t convince them it’s not junk mail. It simply introduces a negative idea that probably wasn’t there to begin with. If you walk up to someone you don’t know and say, “I’m not a liar.” What idea will that person remember about you? The idea of “liar.” People don’t think in negatives.

Third, assuming that your target audience is thinking “junk mail” when they open their mailbox, will a teaser on a piece of that junk mail convince them otherwise? Imagine a mailer from a politician you consider dishonest. It won’t help the politician’s case to put a teaser on the envelope that reads, “I’m not the sneaky, cheating bastard you think I am.”

Introducing a negative idea in this way is counterproductive.

Effective copy is not only about what you say. It’s also about what you don’t say. Every word should have a purpose and avoid unnecessary or distracting information.

What’s a better way to assure people will read your mailer? I’ve already said it: send your mailer to a targeted list of likely customers and present a compelling message and strong offer.

People search for relevance. If your message is relevent, people will read it.

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Good direct mail design: let form follow function

Good direct mail design is like good design in other fields. The best work results from a designer who understands how design is used to accomplish something.

In other words, form should follow function.

In the case of direct mail, the function is to deliver a sales message to a list of recipients to persuade them to take some kind of action, such as placing an order, requesting information, or going to a Web site.

The wrong way to design direct mail is to come up with a “creative concept,” then force fit the copy into the design.

The right way to design direct mail is to understand the selling message and the goal of the mailing, then allow the design to naturally flow from these ideas.

For example, if the goal is to build traffic for a Web site, it would be silly to create an elaborate envelope package. Since you’re not asking for money and the action you’re asking for is easy, all you need is a small piece, such as a postcard.

On the other hand, if you’re selling a product with a $500 price tag, you shouldn’t try it with a postcard because you’ll need a lot more room to convince your recipient to part with his money, provide a means of response that may include a reply form, and include other information such as instructions or your return policy. Read more

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