9 Headline Templates That Have a Prayer

Speak Spanish Like A DiplomatMany A-list copywriters argue headline templates, and swipe files in general, are a waste of time. They don’t work.

Most purveyors of copywriting material, on the other hand, praise the plug-and-play simplicity of templates for selling any product or service.

As in most cases with two disparate views (and agendas), the truth lies somewhere in the middle.

Few A-list writers would consider submitting a direct mail package with a swiped headline, no matter how successful the original. Not even if the derivative headline were undetectable.

The A-listers may have synthesized the knowledge of hundreds of headline split tests but they’re generally bound to the creation-from-scratch mentality that their clients expect from them.

Almost without exception, the purveyors of copywriting material claim that creating winning advertising is an easy process. All you need to do is insert your details into a readymade template, smooth over a few patches and presto, out pops a profitable ad.

Few of them have ever staked much capital on the advice they dispense, outside of the “get rich in copywriting” niche. If it were as easy as they claimed, everybody and his brother would have dozens of winning ads working for them around the clock.

The truth is, writing a profitable ad that can be rolled out meaningfully is hard work but far from impossible. And some rare templates are…

Virtually automatic at getting a prospect to open his wallet

Like the three-word core of a headline in the financial markets. It originated in space, was heavily adopted in magalogs and has been going strong for 40 years. And it’ll probably keep working for just as long due to its devilishly clever psychology. My mentor learned it from his copy mentor and unfortunately, I’m bound to secrecy on this one.

But, I’ve compiled nine headlines that have a chance of selling. And that’s the litmus test. If they can sell, they can also generate leads, get your emails opened or bring scores of bookmarking visitors to your blog.

Either I (or someone in my network) has staked his own cash on many of them. And even though some of them are widely known, they’re not as fatigued as the usual template fare. Moreover, many of them have a several decade track record with numerous, verifiable ad insertions.

Remember, there are no guarantees. And what I or anyone else advocates is irrelevant unless it’s been vetted in the marketplace. These at least offer a fighting chance.

1) For golfers who are almost (but not quite) satisfied with their game — and can’t figure out what they’re doing wrong:

Writer: Mel Martin

Years: 1970-1973

Products: Written for John Jacobs’ book, Practical Golf. A similar pre-headline was used for multiple book offers.

Of all the headlines on this page, this is probably the one with the purest, bottled selling power. It not only identifies and calls out to the prospect like a siren but touches a nerve that sparks action. Though Mel Martin used it as a pre-headline, it works effectively as a headline as well.

Before 2007, you couldn’t find a swipe of this headline if you tried. After the posts about this and nearly two dozen other remarkable (and almost unknown) ads of Mel Martin were written, numerous examples are all over the Web.

Swipe Examples:

For Internet Marketers who are almost (but not quite) satisfied with their conversions — and can’t figure out what they’re doing wrong:

For mutual fund investors who are almost (but not quite) satisfied with their portfolios — and can’t figure out what’s missing:

For gardeners who are almost (but not quite) satisfied with the size of their tomatoes — and can’t figure out what they’re doing wrong:

2) Dont Pay A Penny for This Book Till It Doubles Your Power To Learn

Writer: Eugene Schwartz

Years: 1960’s

Product: Eugene Schwartz’s self-published book, How To Double Your Power to Learn

This works similarly to headlines with the if/then construction. Instead of emphasizing the benefit, the “don’t pay a penny until xyz result happens” stresses the “try before you buy” proposition. This headline works well for the now trendy risk free trial offers.

Swipe Examples:

Don’t Pay A Penny for This Course Till It Doubles Your Website Traffic

Don’t Pay A Penny for This Course Till It Teaches You To Trade Like A Wall Street Veteran

Don’t Pay A Penny for This Book Till It Boosts Your Child’s SAT Scores

3) How I Raised Myself from Failure to Success in Selling

Writer: Victor Schwab

Years: 1950’s

Product: Frank Bettger’s book, How I Raised Myself from Failure to Success in Selling

Victor Schwab wrote the ad for this self-help and sales classic by Frank Bettger. The human interest angle is what gives this headline its hook. Boardroom Books repeated this headline with success in the 1990’s, judging from the ad insertions,

Swipe Examples:

How I Raised Myself from Junior Trader to Head of the Desk

How XYZ Company Went From Small Startup To Publicly Traded In 4 Years

How I Went From Duffer to Par Golfer In 6 Months

How I Went From Danish Dabbler to Fluency in 90 Days

4) Every secret but one* is in this book

Writer: David Ogilvy

Year: 1962

Product: David Ogilvy’s book Confessions Of An Advertising Man

Let this headline henceforth be known as the asterisk headline or a “read the fine print” headline. As in the Ogilvy original, the reader sees the asterisk and becomes more curious about the exception then the main product claim. The only way to satisfy this curiosity is to read the fine print and this in turn drives the reader into the body copy.

Asterisk headlines or pre-headlines that lay out a qualification for the reader to meet can also be successful since the reader wants to know whether she meets it.

Swipe Examples:

Every secret but one* is in this direct marketing course

A limited, first edition copy for qualified* Info Marketing Blog readers.

Every secret but one* for converting prospects to lifelong customers

5) When Doctors Feel Rotten, This Is What They Do

Writer: Unknown

Years: 1937

Product: Artie McGovern’s book, The Secret of Keeping Fit

This potent one is appropriated so often because it preloads a proof mechanism into the ad via the headline. It’s worth testing the use of underling, as in the original.

Swipe Examples:

When IRS Agents Get Audited, This Is What They Do

When Olympic Marathoners Run Out Of Energy, This Is What They Do

When PGA Pros Hit a Slump, This Is What They Do

6) Speak Spanish Like A Diplomat!

Writer: Don Hauptman

Years: 1980’s

Product: Audio-Forum Spanish Language Course

Analogous to “When Doctors Feel Rotten, This Is What They Do,” this compact headline is loaded with proof.

Swipe Examples:

Play Chess Like A Russian

Bake Pizza Like A Neapolitan

Read Food Labels Like a Nutritionist

7) 7 Ways Your Zoysia Grass Lawn Saves You Time, Work, and Money

Writer: Eugene Schwartz (possibly)

Years: 1976-present

Product: Zoysia grass lawn plugs

I believe the writer of the earliest version of this ad is Gene Schwartz based on his oeuvre in this market. It’s hard to squeeze more tangible benefits into a headline than this and it’s smoothly translated to a variety of products and services. It’s surprising the headline in this latest version (2006) is grammatically incorrect.

Swipe Examples:

7 ways XYZ Accounting Inc. Save Your Business Time, Work, and Money

7 Ways Gourmet-To-Go Save Your Wife Time, Work, and Headaches In The Kitchen

7 ways Geeks-On-The-Go Save Your Home Computer Network From Viruses, Data Loss And Sluggish Load Times

8 Shoestring Businesses That You Or Your Wife Can Start And Run In Your Spare Time

Writer: Gary Bencivenga

Years: 1981-1982

Product: David Seltz’s book, A Treasury of Business Opportunities For the 80’s

This headline plays to the overwhelming number of male respondents to business opportunities (especially so in the 80’s) while dismantling the perennial objections of needing too much time and money to launch a small business venture.

Swipe Examples:

Shoestring Internet Businesses That You Or Your Wife Can Start And Run In Your Spare Time!

Shoestring Real Estate Rehabs You Or Your Wife Can Start And Run In Your Spare Time! (Might be feasible by 2010.)

Shoestring Import/Export Businesses You Or Your Husband Can Start And Run In Your Spare Time!

9) Do You Make These Mistakes In English?

Writer: Maxwell Sackheim

Years: 1922-1964

Product: Lead generation for the Sherman Cody School of English

As far as anyone knows, this is the longest running ad in space. Max Sackheim was a vigilant tester and there were numerous versions of this ad dating before 1920 till Sackheim came up with this zinger of a headline.

No better evidence of this headline’s evergreen appeal was its use in 1995 by the world’s winningest royalty writer, Gary Bencivenga, for his information product, Interviews That Win Jobs. The headline was: “Do You Make These Mistakes in Job Interviews?”

Swipe Examples:

Do You Make These Mistakes in Estate Planning?

Do You Make These Mistakes in Direct Marketing?

Do You Make These Mistakes Choosing Vitamins?


  1. says


    Who else wants to write another crappy headline?

    I’m tired of that drivel repeated over and over and over again in the internet marketing marketplace.

    This post — and your blog — is a beacon of light in this darkness. Thank you.

    I know you haven’t been in the game as long as these others, but you’ve already earned a place as one of my quickest-to-open emails with Gary Bencivenga, John Carlton, Doug D’Anna, and a few select others.

    Keep up the good work.


  2. Sheridan Randolph says

    This blog is fantastic. Templates can work, but only if you get the psychology behind them. Thanks for saving us from the gurus!

    Have a great time in Europe! Barcelona is great (so are tapas!). Will you get to see Switzerland? The Swiss Alps are not to be missed.


  3. says

    I think it very much matters the nature of the marketplace, how sophisticated they are, and have they been overexposed to the message.

    Human nature and needs and desires may not change much, but their expression definitely does, as well as the cultural touchstones.

    Controls wear out and to really hammer one out of the park you need to always be open to finding new themes and techniques.

    It’s similar to playing at the Tiger Woods level, versus duffing on the weekend. There are some basic tips your golf pro can give you to turn you into a decent player, but to really take it over the edge requires more than the stock methods.

  4. Clive Cable says

    Every time I get an e-mail from you I open it with eager anticipation and I’m never disappointed.

    You’ve done it again, great, practical, useful information a writer can act on immediately.

    Thank you for these 9 templates and the examples you’ve given.

    I shall be testing one or two of these straight away!

  5. says

    Headlines are essential to marketing. These are some of the best templates that I have seen and there free with examples. I appreciate the templates and will be visiting your blog often.

  6. says

    I just stumple upon this blog and already have tons of ideas flowing. Thanks for pointing such a great compilation of examples and in depth easy to read enjoyable information.

    Have one more reader!

  7. says

    Great stuff, Lawrence.

    Just one tiny note of difference, though.

    On number 7…the original or 2006 version is grammatically correct. However; the swipe files are incorrect.

    To know, just turn the sentence around and see if sounds correct…like this:

    XYZ Accounting Inc. Save Your Business Time, Work, and Money 7 Ways.

    Then, turn the original around:

    Your Zoysia Grass Lawn Saves You Time, Work, and Money 7 Ways.

    Thanks for the great resources, though.
    Your hard work is appreciated. (and swiped no doubt)

  8. says

    Lawrence –

    Thanks so much for the hard work on the blog, your research and everything you do. As usual – you hit the nail on the head – your blog is my favorite!!


  9. says

    Hi Lawrence,

    I just recently found your blog. Lots of good stuff. Thanks for making it available. I love reading over the headlines and copy from the greats of the past. I don’t consider myself a copywriter but I have learned so much from studying these men who shaped the way we sell today.

    Once again great job in providing quality information.


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