11 March 2007

Get the right headline for your readers

I have just read an interview with a copywriter called Gary Bencivega. He tells a story of writing headlines for investors. One of his clients sold gold and silver coins and bullion. In this case it was an ad for silver. The headline ran for many years, “Why the price of silver may rise steeply”. He suggested that the agency should test a headline that sounded stronger, bolder, more confident such as ‘Why the price of silver will rise steeply’. He wanted to make it sound as if the writer believed what he was predicting.

Testing the new headline showed that the original was better. “Why the price of silver may rise steeply” outperformed “Why the price of silver will rise steeply” by about 200% despite having the same body copy in both versions. He found it difficult to understand why “may rise” worked so much better than the more forceful “will rise”.

Finally he concluded that it was the disbelief factor. Most investors are knowledgeable and thoughtful. The promise of something that is unknowable such as “will rise”, makes readers conclude that the writer didn't know what he/she was talking about. By building in a little bit of understatement at the headline stage, investors got pulled in to read the whole of the copy.

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