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Premiere Issue December 2001

Copywriting Technique

by Tom Antion
The Secret Behind Million-Dollar Ads 
by David Garfinkel

The headline is by far the most critical part of marketing both on your website and via email. The headline consists of the words that get people to read further on your webpage. When it comes to email, the headline is actually the subject line. If the subject line doesn't grab the person immediately, it is doubtful that the email will be opened at all.

Headlines have meant the difference between a multi-thousand dollar promotion and a total bust. I've put the exact same promotion out to my list with one headline pulling almost nothing and another headline having my email box light up with orders all day.

The fastest, cheapest and easiest way to get started learning about headlines is to pick up the classic book by Dan Kennedy "The Ultimate Sales Letter." It has a simple section with fill in the blank headlines.

One of my biggest drawing email headlines of all time was:

"Great Speaking: Boy did I get in trouble . . ."

The people on my email list couldn't wait to see what I had done to get in trouble. I'll be relating more of this story in future issues as we get into other aspects of copywriting.

Start collecting headlines so you get a feel for the thoughts that went into creating them. Ask yourself if you want to read more because you read the headline.

Here's another one that hit big for me:

"They laughed when I sat down at the computer . . ."

The first line inside the email then followed:

"but when I started to click"

This was a spin off of one of the greatest headlines of all times

"They laughed when I sat down at the piano . . . but when I started to play."

There is nothing wrong with taking successful headlines and spinning them off to include your information. In fact that's what Dan Kennedy's headline section is all about. He gives you successful formulas and you just fill in the blanks with your info. Here's an example from his book:

Formula: How _____ made me _____.

"How a fool stunt made me a star salesman."

"How a simple idea made me plant manager of the year."

Get Dan's book. It's only about 10 bucks.

Evoke Emotions
"This business mistake could make your child go hungry"

I don't have any kids, but if I did I'd be reading the rest of this letter so I can find out the mistake I better avoid.

Target when you can
"Every author must know this publishing secret."

You are targeting a certain group which cuts out all those except the people you  really want to open your email.

Get a big benefit in when you can
Dentists that read this letter increase sales by 35%

What dentist wouldn't want to read the letter?

Be extremely careful with email headlines
Many people and companies screen the subject lines of incoming email (some screen the entire email). If you put $$$, all capital letters or even the word "Free" in the subject line, your email may be immediately deleted because the filters see the words and think that the email is spam (unwanted commercial email). When I promote my Emarketing camp I combine the words Butt and Camp into ButtCamp in hopes that it slides by the electronic filters that might see the word "Butt" as part of a porn email. Many times I eliminate the Butt word altogether to avoid the filters.

Spend lots of time on your headline

I'd say about 75% of your time should be spent on your headline. Brainstorm as many as you possibly can. 

Use em all
Pick the best headline as the main headline and use the others as subheads throughout the sales letter. Many people scan the letter or webpage before they read it. They scan the sub heads. If each subhead is a pretty good headline, then you have a pretty good chance the person will take time to read the rest of the letter.

Study the heck out of headlines. It will make you a fortune in all your Internet operations AND your printed promotional material.

Here's a good course on writing headlines: 

The Secret Behind Million-Dollar Ads

By David Garfinkel

Want a little secret to turn your advertising into an irresistible magnet for customers?

Dale Carnegie knew the secret, and that's one reason his book "How to Win Friends and Influence People" has sold more than 15 million copies. In fact, British Airways recently named it "The Business Book of the 20th Century."

It's a great book. But if Dale had titled it "How to Remember People's Names and Curb Your Incessant Urge to Argue," do you think it would have sold as well? Probably not. There's great power in good titles.

What you may not realize is the words "How to Win Friends and Influence People" are not only the title of the book. Those words were also the headline of a mail-order ad, which sold the book. The ad ran successfully for many years and sold hundreds of thousands of copies.

So what does this have to do with turning your advertising into an irresistible customer magnet?

Here's what. Behind the title and headline is a "secret code" that makes it powerful. Dale knew it. Great advertising copywriters know it. And now, you're going to know it, too.

The "secret code" is actually a generic formula that gets attention and creates desire in your prospect's mind. Every winning headline has a unique generic formula hidden inside. Here's the formula in Dale Carnegie's book title and headline:

How to _____ and _____.

Let's see the formula at work. Say you are an executive recruiter, and you help companies find new executives. In reality, your biggest problem is finding the executive candidates in the first place. So, to increase your group of candidtates, you decide to run an ad in your local business journal. Here's how you could use this formula to write a headline for your ad:

How to Get a Better Job and Make More Money

and right after reading that headline, anyone who's even a little interested would want to read your ad immediately. Then, if your copy (text) is even halfway decent, you'd get plenty of calls.

Or, let's say you run a martial arts school. Here's how you could apply the formula in an advertising headline to get you new students:

How to Stay Fit and Protect Yourself

Do you see how powerful that is? You've just zeroed-in on people who are likely to be interested in learning martial arts.

The brutal reality of advertising: An ad with a good headline and even mediocre copy will get you a response and generate sales. But with a poor headline, even the most brilliant copy will get you little or no response. Why? Because without a good headline to get their attention, most people won't read any further.

The good news is, once you have identified a good headline that works in one industry or market, you can adapt it (like we did with the Dale Carnegie headline, above) for your own business. Great headlines work as subject lines in emails, titles on Web pages, and of course as headlines in print ads and sales letters. Great headlines will literally transform your sales.

How does this work in today's economy?

Recently a client asked me to help him introduce a new service to Internet Service Providers. (Note: To understand what you are about to read, you should know that ISPs call their suppliers "backbone providers.") I wrote a direct mail letter and my client sent it out to ISPs. Because my client was revealing new information his prospects hadn't heard before, we used the following "teaser headline" on the front of the envelope:

What Your Backbone Provider Isn't Telling You

Was this an entirely original headline? No. I had seen a similar "teaser headline" on a successful mailing to promote an investment newsletter:

What Your Broker Isn't Telling You About High-Tech Stocks

So I merely identified the "secret code" in the original winning headline, and applied it to my client's market, ISPs.

The response to the mailing was overwhelming! Nearly 10% of the entire ISP industry responded to our letter - and my client has added eight figures of new annual revenues as a result of the business that developed.

I'm telling you this not to brag, but to point out the awesome power of good headlines. While many people spend hours and hours trying to come up with "the perfect headline" for their ads, there is an easier way. Find proven headlines that already work for another business in another industry, and adapt them to your business. 

Then prepare for a flood of new customers!

David Garfinkel is a successful results oriented copywriter and the author of Advertising Headlines That Make You Rich, which shows you exactly how to adapt proven money-making headlines to your business. For more information about the book, and to purchase a copy, visit  .

Upcoming articles for this section

  • Swipe files

  • The ethical copycat technique

  • Creating Urgency

  • Creating Scarcity

  • Guarantees

  • The Reason Why technique

  • Sub Heads

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