Widely credited as being the father of modern-day advertising, David Ogilvy brought research-based method and insight into an industry that had long been shrouded in mystery. He revolutionized the advertising world.
Never heard of David Ogilvy? When Fortune ran an article about him entitled “Is David Ogilvy a Genius?” he promptly asked his lawyer to sue the editor for the question mark. That tells you all you need to know about the man.
Here are some of his words of wisdom concerning advertising headlines. Because these rules are rooted in the human psyche, they continue to apply just as much today as they did thirty years ago.
I want to encourage you to apply these tried-and-true principles to your blog writing and social media posting. Do so and you’ll see a much higher percentage of people clicking through to read your content. (Quotes from Ogilvy are in italics and headline examples are taken from Victor Schwab’s famous 1958 advertisement 100 Good Advertising Headlines – and why they were so profitable.)
1. People are more likely to read your body copy if your headline arouses their curiosity; so you should end your headline with a lure to read on.
Always write blog posts for your reader, not yourself, with at least one clear deliverable to improve the life of your reader. The trick is to convey to the reader right there in your headline enough information to pique their interest. If the reader is confident they'll learn something worthwhile, or be entertained, they'll click through and read on.
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2. Some copywriters write tricky headlines -- puns, literary allusions, and other obscurities. This is a sin.
In the average newspaper your headline has to compete with 350 others. Research has shown that readers travel so fast through this jungle that they don’t stop to decipher the meaning of obscure headlines. Your headline must telegraph what you want to say, and it must telegraph it in plain language. Don’t play games with the reader.
Try to sympathize with your reader. She is bombarded with marketing messages all day long, and not just in the print media and TV, as in Olgivy’s time, but also from the Internet, her emails, and even her phone. She has had to become a master-filterer in order to make the best use of her time.
Help her make a quick and informed decision whether your blog post is for her by keeping your blog headlines, and your Tweets, simple and descriptive. Also, make sure your headlines are a true reflection of what she will find when she clicks through, or she won’t entrust you with her time again.
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3. Avoid blind headlines -- the kind which mean nothing unless you read the body copy underneath them; most people don’t.
Again, you’ve got to put yourself in the shoes of your reader. During the course of her day, she has to conserve time and energy. She cannot afford to click hundreds of links on Twitter and in Google search results just in case there is gold beneath the surface. She has to make informed judgments about what will benefit her and what will not. Make sure your blog post packaging tells the reader what’s inside, otherwise she’ll always go with a safer bet.
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Notice how familiar the example headlines I’ve used in this post are. That’s because 60 years on bloggers are still using the same headline-writing techniques day in, day out. They’re still using them because they work.
So next time blogging inspiration strikes and you find yourself searching for the perfect blog title, be sure to keep David Ogilvy’s wise words on hand as a point of reference. After all, the man was a genius!
Photo credit: Alex Barth