The difference between advertising and personal salesmanship lies
largely in personal contact. The salesman is there to demand attention.
He cannot well be ignored. The advertisement can be ignored.
But the salesman wastes much of his time on prospects whom he never can
hope to interest. He cannot pick them out. The advertisement is read
only by interested people who, by their own volition, study what we have
The purpose of a headline is to pick out people you can interest. You
wish to talk to someone in a crowd. So the first thing you say is, “Hey
there, Bill Jones” to get the right person’s attention.
So in an advertisement. What you have will interest certain people only,
and for certain reasons. You care only for those people. Then create a
headline which will hail those people only.
Perhaps a blind headline or some clever conceit will attract many times
as many. But they may consist mostly of impossible subjects for what you
have to offer. And the people you are after may never realize that the
ad refers to something they may want.
Headlines on ads are like headlines on news items. Nobody reads a whole
newspaper. One is interested in financial news, one in political, one
in society, one in cookery, one in sports, etc. There are whole pages in
any newspaper which we never scan at all. Yet other people may turn
directly to those pages.
We pick out what we wish to read by headlines, and we don’t want those
headlines misleading. The writing of headlines is one of the greatest
journalistic arts. They either conceal or reveal an interest.
Suppose a newspaper article stated that a certain woman was the most
beautiful in the city. That article would be of intense interest to that
woman and her friends. But neither she nor her friends would ever read
it if the headline was “Egyptian Psychology.”
So in advertising. It is commonly said that people do not read
advertisements. That is silly, of course. We who spend millions in
advertising and watch the returns marvel at the readers we get. Again
and again we see 20 per cent of all the readers of a newspaper cut out a
But people do not read ads for amusement. They don’t read ads which, at
a glance, seem to offer nothing interesting. A double-page ad on women’s
dresses will not gain a glance from a man. Nor will a shaving cream ad
from a woman.
Always bear these facts in mind. People are hurried. The average person
worth cultivating has too much to read. They skip three-fourths of the
reading matter which they pay to get. They are not going to read your
business talk unless you make it worth their while and let the headline
People will not be bored in print. They may listen politely at a dinner
table to boasts and personalities, life histories, etc. But in print
they choose their own companions, their own subjects. They want to be
amused or benefited. They want economy, beauty, labor saving, good
things to eat and wear. There may be products which interest them more
than anything else in a magazine. But they will never know it unless the
headline or the picture tells them.
The writer of this chapter spends far more time on headlines than on
writing. He often spends hours on a single headline. Often scores of
headlines are discarded before the right one is selected. For the entire
return from an ad depends on attracting the right sort of readers. The
best of salesmanship has no chance whatever unless we get a hearing.
The vast difference in headlines is shown by keyed returns which this
book advocates. The identical ad run with various headlines differs
tremendously in its returns. It is not uncommon for a change in
headlines to multiply returns from five to ten times over.
So we compare headlines until we know what sort of appeal pays best.
That differs in every line, of course.
The writer has before him keyed returns on nearly two thousand headlines
used on a single product. The story in these ads is nearly identical.
But the returns vary enormously, due to the headlines. So with every
keyed return in our record appears the headline that we used.
Thus we learn what type of headline has the most wide-spread appeal. The
product has many uses. It fosters beauty. It prevents disease. It aids
daintiness and cleanliness. We learn to exactness which quality most of
our readers seek.
That does not mean that we neglect the others. One sort of appeal may
bring half the returns of another, yet be important enough to be
profitable. We overlook no field that pays. But we know what proportion
of our ads should, in the headline, attract any certain class.
For this same reason we employ a vast variety of ads. If we are using
twenty magazines we may use twenty separate ads. This because
circulations overlap, and because a considerable percentage of people
are attracted by each of several forms of approach. We wish to reach
On a soap, for instance, the headline “Keep Clean” might attract a very
small percentage. It is too commonplace. So might the headline, “No
animal fats.” People may not care much about that. The headline, “It
floats” might prove interesting. But a headline referring to beauty or
complexion might attract many times as many.
An automobile ad might refer in the headline to a good universal joint.
It might fall flat, because so few buyers think of universal joints. The
same ad, with a headline “The Sportiest of Sport Bodies,” might outpull
the other by fifty to one.
This is enough to suggest the importance of headlines. Anyone who keys
ads will be amazed at the difference. The appeals we like best will
rarely prove best, because we do not know enough people to average up
their desires. So we learn on each line by experiment.
But back of all lie fixed principles. You are presenting an ad to
millions. Among them is a percentage, small or large, whom you hope to
interest. Go after that percentage and try to strike the chord that
responds. If you are advertising corsets, men and children don’t
interest you. If you are advertising cigars, you have no use for
non-smokers. Razors won’t attract women, rouge will not interest men.
Don’t think that those millions will read your ads to find out if your
product interests. They will decide by a glance–by your headline or
your pictures. Address the people you seek, and them only.