John Caples on Headlines

by buildingpharmabrands

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John Caples, the greatest direct marketing copywriter ever described his views and ideas on headlines in interviews and his publications. Here is what he said on headlines:

Headlines makes ads work. The best headlines appeal to peoples’ self interest, or give news. Long headlines that say something out-pull short headlines that say nothing. Remember that every headline has one job. It must stop your prospects with a believable promise. All messages have headlines. In TV, it’s the start of the commercial. In radio, the first few words. In a letter, the first paragraph. Even a telephone call has a headline. Come up with a good headline, and you’re almost sure to have a good ad. But even the greatest writer can’t save an ad with a poor headline. You can’t make an ad pull unless people stop to read your brilliant copy.

Formulas are applied to the writing of stories, plays and popular songs, and to the creation of dramas that are broadcast daily on television. Can formulas be applied for writing headlines and teasers for advertisements? John Caples answers very affirmatively in his eternal classic Tested Advertising Methods, which was first published in 1932. The principles he laid down and the formulas he created then are relevant and valid even today.

The man, who wrote what may be the best known, most-quoted ad of all time, They laughed when I Sat Down at the Piano, But When I Started to Play!, created 35 formulas for writing headlines that grab and sustain attention.

  1. Begin your headline with the words How To (How To Get A Better Position)
  2. Begin your Headline with the word How (How This New Invention is Revolutionizing the Concrete Construction)
  3. Begin your Headline with the word Why (Why Your Feet Hurt?)
  4. Begin your Headline with the word Which (Which is the Best Battery Value For Your Car?)
  5. Begin your Headline with the words Who Else (Who Else Has Hair That Won’t Stay Combed?)
  6. Begin your Headline with the word Wanted (Wanted. A Few Good Men. This has been the recruiting slogan for the US Marines for many years)
  7. Begin your Headline with the word This (This is the Quietest Dishwasher in America)
  8. Begin your Headline with the word Because (Because Your Pet’s Quality of Life is Important to You)
  9. Begin your Headline with the word If (If You Savor Growth and Security, We Give an EDGE)
  10. Begin your Headline with the word Advice (Advice to Brides)

Headlines that focus on Benefits

  1. Use a Testimonial Headline (Why I Cried After The Ceremony)
  2. Offer the Reader a Test (Can Your Kitchen Pass the Guest Test?)
  3. Offer Information in Value (Straight Facts on When to Take Profits)
  4. Tell a Story (They Laughed When I Sat Down at the Piano)
  5. Warn the Reader to Delay Buying (Don’t Buy Car Insurance Until You Have Read These Facts)
  6. Let the Advertiser Speak Directly to the Reader. Write the entire ad in the first person and speak directly to the reader. (I’ll Train You At Home For a Good Job in Computer Programming)
  7. Address Your Headline to Specific Person or Group. Address your target group. (We Take Heart Cases Other Hospitals Won’t)
  8. Have Your Headline Ask a Question (What Good Are Frequent Flyer Programs If the Miles Take Off Before You Do)
  9. Offer Benefits Through Facts and Figures (Because We Recycle Over 100 Million Plastic Bottles A Year, Landfills Can be Filled With Other Things. Like Land, For Instance)

News Headlines

  1. Begin Your Headline with the Word Introducing. (Introducing the All New Ford Taurus)
  2. Begin Your Headline with the Word Announcing. (An Important Announcement to Homeowners)
  3. Use Words that Have an Announcement Quality such as Finally, Presenting, Just Released, etc. (Presenting the New 36” Ballerina Doll)
  4. Begin Your Headline With the Word New (New Method of Keeping Your Personal Finance)
  5. Begin Your Headline With theWord Now ( Now in Paperback)
  6. Begin Your Headline With the Word At Last (At Last! A Steam Iron with a ‘Magic Brain’)
  7. Put a Date Into Your Headline (You Can Speak French by October 15)
  8. Write Your Headline in News Style (Better Hearing is Suddenly Here!)

Price Related Headlines

  1. Feature the Price in Your Headline (Killer $500 CD Player!)
  2. Feature Reduced Price (Less than Half Price….Stainless Steel Kitchen Sets)
  3. Feature a Special Merchandising Offer (30-Day Supply of Vitamins for $2.65)
  4. Feature an Easy Payment Plan (No Money Down… Easy Payments When You Buy Cyclone Fence)
  5. Feature a Free Offer (Free Trial Lesson)

One to Three Word Headlines

  1. Use a One Word Headline. Advertisers, who run small ads are sometimes able to find a single word that can serve as a headline. (Corns)
  2. Use a Two Word Headline (Diaper Rash)
  3. Use a Three Word Headline (Burn Fat Faster)

Follow this final advice of Caples on headlines: Remember, if you create a good, attention-grabbing headline, your task is more than half completed. It will be relatively easy matter to write the copy. On the other hand, if you use a poor headline, it doesn’t matter how hard you labor on your copy, because it won’t be read.