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HIGH IMPACT: How YOU Can Create Ads that SELL!
(The Psychology of Effective Advertising)
  (c) Gary Witt, 1998

 Excerpts from Chapter 3: "Creating Headlines That Grab Attention"

"Let's look at some easy-to-understand techniques to help you design more effective print advertising. You don't have to know anything about advertising, but you must know your product, know your customers, and be able to write a clear sentence. If you can't do that, don't attempt to do your own ads! If you can, this book will help you use those skills -- and your common sense -- to create effective ads, brochures, flyers and other marketing materials.

Most print ads or other print pieces are composed of three things: Headlines, Pictures (or graphics), and Text. The role of the headline and the picture in a print ad are to grab the readers' attention. It's called the "grabber." Grabbers are what carnival side-show barkers use to lure people to pay a dollar to go inside the tent. ("See the two-headed monkey!" See the world's smallest man!")

Grabbers stimulate a motivation (in this case, a desire) and promise to satisfy it. "Hurry, hurry, hurry," the barker shouts. "You'll be amazed. You'll be flabergasted. When you see the incredible Giant Rat of Sumatra!" Hearing this offer, some casual passersby suddenly realize they would like to experience novelty, amazement, and awe. And, by golly, a giant Sumatran rat would just do the trick!

The Barker's Real Pitch -- and Yours:

The barker first stimulated a desire-type motivation in his audience by promising that he has just the thing to stir their emotions (seeing a giant rat is hardly a need in their lives.) Then the barker explains how they can experience these feelings of awe and wonderment, thus satisfying the drive -- "Step right up! For just one dollar you can experience this Wonder of Science!" Notice, the barker isn't really selling the Giant Rat. He is selling feelings -- awe, wonder, excitement, maybe even some fear. The Rat is just the means by which to create those feelings in the paying crowd.

The barker offered to satisfy the crowd's desire for those feelings, in return for just one dollar. That is the deal being offered -- you give me a dollar, and I'll make you feel excited, awed, and scared within two minutes. What a deal! Suddenly people who had no thought of wanting to gaze at a big, hairy rat just one minute before, are overcome by an awakened urge to see one. And they can do it right now, if they've just got a dollar left. Notice, the REAL deal was NOT "you give me a dollar and I'll let you look at a rat." If you understand the difference, you're ready to use the psychological marketing approach to create your advertising and other marketing materials . . .
  (note: several pages of text are omitted here.)

 HEADLINES That Draw Attention:

Here are some ideas about how to create a headline that stops traffic. Use these ideas as a way to excite your imagination, as guideposts to evaluate headlines you create, and as a repair manual to fix headlines that don't work. In all cases, use your common sense. Use the ideas that apply, ignore the others.

1) Make it short.

  Notice when you read a newspaper that you often purposely avoid looking at the ads. You'll look at even the smallest story about a jeep rollover in Sierra Leone, but you won't look at a half page ad for a clothing sale at the Dillards down the street! By any measure, the sale has more potential impact on your life than the African jeep, but you select the jeep anyway. Why? Because the news story doesn't DEMAND your time; it isn't trying to sell you something. Readers indulge you by listening, so you should make it as simple for them to understand your message as possible -- and still make your point. A short headline easy generally easier to read and understand, so readers prefer it. A headline like "Coke Hits The Spot" is faster for a reader to mentally process and understand than one like, "Coke Tastes Great When You Are Really Thirsty."

Short headlines are generally also easier to remember. And the oddity of a single word can often stop readers. For example, each ad in a series of negative political ads highlighting the poor record of one candidate began with one word such as "Oops!" "Oh-Oh!" "Ouch!", etc. They created eye-stopping appeal and added a little humor to an uncomfortable subject.

2) Create a mental image or picture in the reader's mind.

Some words (called "concrete" words) create a mental image when we hear or read them. For example, "Hammer," or "Flower." Other words don't generally create an image. They are called "abstract" words, like "freedom," "pleasure," and "caring."

We remember pictures far better than words, so it makes sense (supported by years of research) that words which create mental pictures in the reader's mind will be understood and recalled better than words which do not. For example, a cosmetic ad had this headline, "See your mother on weekends. Not every time you look in the mirror." This headline created a strong mental image, raised a fear and promised to satisfy it -- the essence of a good headline.

3) Use a strong word that's packed with related emotions.

Short, emotion-packed words in bold letters grab attention. It's often best to use them alone or in a two-word phrase. For example, a headline may say "You're Fired" or "Sexy." A financial seminar was advertised with the simple, catchy headline "Bankrupt."

The word should be short, often used (for familiarity), and laden with emotions. Just a glance at such words will often trigger an emotional response -- and that is often enough to hook the reader. Of course, the headline should have some relationship to the overall theme of the ad you've settled on.

Try out several alternatives before deciding on a headline. Remember, the headline isn't meant to sell, it is only meant to act as a stop sign, leading readers to look at your ad. Help each part of your ad to do its specific job.

4) Use a mysterious word or phrase.

 "Ancient Secrets Revealed!," or "Mobster's Lost Vault Uncovered!!," or "Frightening Discovery!!!" are examples of this technique. People love mysteries. If your headline promises your readers secrets, intrigue, mystery, or oddities, they will often stop to learn more. [Note how exclamation marks lend drama and excitement to the headline. Read On!!!]

People's love for such stimulation hasn't changed since P.T. Barnum made a fortune on freaks and oddities, and Robert Ripley did the same with his "Believe It Or Not" museum. One of the finest examples of pure "amazing mystery" public relations hype was created by the unlikely . . . "

Over 500 other similar tips, ideas and "how-to" guidelines in this book will help you create powerful, effective ads, brochures and flyers. Anyone can use these tips to help their business grow.

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  • To review Dr. Witt's new book "101 Ways to Improve Your Business Web Site!", click here.

  • Are your current marketing materials your Secret Enemy? Do they contain hidden problems that are costing you sales? To find out, register then click on "Marketing Materials Analysis."


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