Many 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
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.
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) Don‘t Pay A Penny for This Book Till It Doubles Your Power To Learn
Writer: Eugene Schwartz
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.
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
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,
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
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.
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
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.
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
Product: Audio-Forum Spanish Language Course
Analogous to “When Doctors Feel Rotten, This Is What They Do,” this compact headline is loaded with proof.
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)
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.
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
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.
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
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?”
Do You Make These Mistakes in Estate Planning?
Do You Make These Mistakes in Direct Marketing?
Do You Make These Mistakes Choosing Vitamins?