• Steve Ridley

Not all mind expanding substances are illegal

Updated: Mar 4, 2020


Did you notice that the headline doesn’t mention the product?

Did this headline grab your attention?

Then, it’s done its job.

That job is to get your attention.

'On the average, five times as many people read the headline as read the body copy. When you have written the headline, you have spent eighty cents out of your dollar.'

David Ogilvy

The headline was part of an award-winning advertising campaign for The Economist. It aimed to establish the publication as an important brand for business professionals.

It avoids the cardinal sin in a headline which is to try and do too much.

A brilliant copywriter, Gene Schwartz, once wrote that copywriters don’t create demand for products and services; they channel it. The power comes from the market and the writer must understand those forces, harness them and direct them. This is the essence of writing successful copy. It’s also the key to writing a killer headline.

Gene knew that features/benefits are a way of saying that the physical product doesn’t sell and shouldn’t usually be in your headline. Why? Because your customers don’t usually give a stuff about it. How your product satisfies a need is where the power and success of your product are found.

Plus, it’s not about your brilliant creativity. A copywriter shouldn’t want to hear how clever their headline is… that tells a writer that the writing has become the focus when, of course, it shouldn’t be. It’s about creating demand for your products.

The strategy for this headline was to dramatise the emotional benefits of reading The Economist which can be perceived as a challenging read. But the agency knew that it was also seen as being associated with successful people. The overall campaign, therefore, focused on how reading The Economist would help you to become part of an exclusive club. The successful people in this club were open to new ideas and expanding their minds… legally. What you needed to join the club and be seen to be successful was to buy the magazine.

You need to have a laser focus on the market, peoples’ wants and desires. Having done that, how do we create a killer headline? A headline can’t contain all these elements … that would be extraordinary. There are over fifty techniques for creating a killer ad so here are fifteen to practice with. They come with a health warning. These techniques are not easy and usually require a skilful commercial writer to deploy them:


Create an emotional connection with your audience and they’ll read your second paragraph and the third and so on. Misunderstand the emotional connection and it’s the end for your headline.


Stress your product’s originality, distinctiveness or exclusivity.


Surprise your readers through contradiction or paradox.


Create tension or drama to make a reader stay with you. We’re naturally curious so play with that.


Show what the product can do for the customer… that’s what they’re interested in.

Value for money

Measure your claim and if appropriate show how you compare with your nearest competitor.


Make a claim and show how much time you can save someone.


Describe the products look, feel, touch, smell or sounds. Help your reader to feel and sense the product even before you introduce it.

Before and After

A before and after is an old advertising staple but can be very effective.


Give an example in your headline that is demonstrable and true.


If a customer already knows all about your product you may need to focus on price.

Solve a problem

To solve a problem give it a name and then address it in your headline.


Avoid literary references or puns… they smack of someone who is trying too hard to be clever.


You want a customer to act rather than prevaricate. So, ensure that they understand this is a time-limited offer or something they need to get now.


Make a claim but frame it in the form of a question and/or answer.

And remember that this is only the start … ok, so you’ve got their attention albeit temporarily. Now you must hold onto them and this is where your second headline comes in and your third and so on. It’s where you need to write skilfully a second and third paragraph that flows logically whilst still holding the reader’s attention. If you get this far, you’re well on the way to having a new customer.

If you need help creating a killer headline or if you have any comments to make on this blog post, I’d love to hear from you.

Steve Ridley

Professional Copywriter

07752 207080

You can phone me on 07752 207080

or please use the Get in Touch Button.

I'm based in Cambridgeshire.

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©2019 Steve Ridley Copywriter