Stuck for a Headline? Think Generic

Whether it’s a catalog, a mailing, a space ad, an email, a web page or a whatever, what determines whether a passerby will take even a cursory look at what you’re pitching?

Of course – the headline.

We have long since learned that a basic descriptive headline wins second prize in a contest against a benefit-suggesting headline. But sometimes the muse is not resting on our shoulder—especially when it’s 4:00 p.m. Friday and that blasted piece of copy is overdue. So here, as a dependable crutch, is a gaggle of generic headlines. In a burst of statesmanship, I haven’t copyrighted them, so use them at your leisure when—as happens to all of us—your brain is temporarily out of gear. (I’m not claiming to be the original source here, just the com­piler.) OK? Twenty, herewith.

Be glad you waited.
See the automatic benefit? Whatever
follows is automatically an improve-ment or a step up that wasn’t there for those who bought an earlier, more basic unit.

How to [ANYTHING].
“How to …” is a consistent winner because it implies mastery over a technique or a problem that’s positioned as common and not usually conquerable.

For the next 24 hours …
Often an offer hooked to this dead-line is an outright lie, but so what? Timeliness is a potent selling weapon.

Not to worry. You still have 3 days.
It’s the first cousin of “24 hours.” Usually I prefer “three” to “3,” but not in this quickie-usage.

I didn’t believe it, either.
Powerful credibility here, tying the self-declared expert to the target-recipient. Whatever follows this statement is loaded with truthfulness.

You decide whether the damage is significant.
A warning is a grabber … and as you look at it, even in this primitive form, can you imagine anyone being able to pass up whatever follows?

Say hello to [X]. Say goodbye to [Y].
Obviously the effectiveness of this one depends on relevance to whoever is reading it. Careful when using it, because arrogance is a turnoff.

What if somebody told you [WHATEVER]. Somebody just did.
Here is a heading with muscle. It’s hard to beat, even by a headline loaded with product/benefit specifics.

I’m going to tell you something you already know.
See child psychology at work here? What is it your target already knows? He or she has to read on to find out.

You have to be as annoyed by [PROBLEM] as I used to be.
Here is another first cousin, this one related to the previous headline on this list. It pre-sets the mind-set.

Take your best guess.
Here is a utilitarian heading, neither clever nor quick, but one with which the copywriter can continue without having to think, “Now, what?”

Because it’s tied to an absolute specific, you can’t use this one universally. You need a hero. Got one?

What your [LAWYER, ACCOUNTANT, DOCTOR] won’t tell you.
Venerable? Yes. Used for 50 years? Yes. Used effectively for 50 years? Yes. That’s why it’s on this list.

Present this card at any [NAME OF STORE OR LOCATION] and get [WHATEVER].
Here is a specialty that may not match the medium because maxi­mum effectiveness depends on it be­ing on a card or at least a facsimile of a card. If you have technical prob­lems, don’t mess with it.

Try us again and save $10.
Tie this to a coupon and it’s an in­variable winner. The amount is less significant than the universality of what we’re asking our would-be cus­tomer to try.

I’ll bet your mother never taught you this song.
Look out, because this demands the professional laying on of hands. Save it until you’re sure you aren’t suffering from brain-squeeze. Then run with it and count the improved response.

Why we didn’t put our fourth model on the market.
See the apparent integrity here? It can be the third model or any num­ber, and it leads directly to the cur­rent top-upgraded version.

You decide whether or not this is an invitation.
You’ll have offers that seem more sincere when they’re more sedate but still have some octane. Here is an ef­fective way to couch those offers.

The kids [OR THE WHOEVERS]finally get a vote.
Suggesting inclusion in a disen­franchised situation is a positioning statement. That means it isn’t uni­versal. The very nature of not being universal adds impact when those at whom you deliberately aim it recog­nize themselves.

Why should you [WHATEVER]?
Notice anything about the format? Ah! It’s a question, without a proposed an­swer as part of the heading. Sorry, but I’m saving the explanation of this one for a future column on the benefit of questions. And many benefits apply. (Visualize, re-formed as questions, the three previous proposed headlines on the list you just read.)

So, to use a heading I didn’t in­clude because it’s such a cliché … Stay tuned.

Herschell Gordon Lewisis the principal of Lewis Enterprises.

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