Why is a Headline like a Police Siren?

We all know the alarming shock of seeing the flashing lights and hearing the piercing scream of a police car, fire truck, or ambulance, and we all know what to do when one of these vehicles comes into our hearing and visual range.  We pull over to the curb and stop quickly.

That’s exactly the reaction we, as marketers, want to create when writing headlines for our marketing material.

Every copywriter will tell you that the headline is the most important part of a newsletter, print ad, article, website, brochure, or flyer. The writer works hard to write well-crafted headlines to stop the eye, grab it, and arrest it from straying.  Police cars have sirens and flashing lights to stop the bad guys, grab and arrest them.  Both headlines and sirens work to grab attention.

Headlines have the power to focus the eye and the brain on a provocative, curiosity evoking statement or question.  If you don’t arrest the eye at the headline you will never get the reader to look at the body copy, so your audience will never bother to see the rest of your creative effort where you are extolling the features, the benefits, and the offer.

But writing headlines isn’t easy.  Unfortunately, headlines rarely just show up on the writer’s blank page in a “flash-of-brilliance.”  Like most creative endeavors, there is a process to writing vivid, eye-stopping headlines.  It becomes easier if there is aprocess or system used repetitively so it becomes a natural part of the work.

Often, when writing advertising copy, a press release, or a business letter, the process many professional copy writers use is to write the body copy first then write at least ten possible headlines and sometimes as many as twenty-five.  At times, this can be painstakingly difficult, but it is necessary to discover the best way to attract attention.  Unless you are on a very tight deadline, it’s best to put the list aside for a few hours and review it later.

This “time out” allows the writer’s subconscious to add its own creativity to the effort.  After the writing exercise and the “rest period,” the selection of the best, most evocative headline usually becomes evident.  The next time you need to stop a reader’s eyes, try this arresting process and your headline will be just like a police car with siren howling and flashing lights.  That will stop them from turning the page or clicking off your website.  

Question or comment to Larry:  larry@larrygaller.com