Fire Starters

Making Headlines

Wowing readers without being weird.

Veteran copywriter Victor Schwab made this observation: "Many a headline fails to stop readers because its vocabulary is so hackneyed. No word or phrase in it has any attention-arresting element of surprise. There are no words, expressions or ideas not commonly used or expected in the headline of [such] an ad."

We often forget that the public is so inundated with, and overstimulated by, advertising messages that it requires unexpected ideas or wording to get its attention. Advertising has a great challenge because people aren't predisposed to sitting down and soaking up ad copy as a form of pleasure. You have to make it more attractive for the reader to stop at your ad than to read beyond it.

Of course, being unconventional doesn't mean you have to be bizzare. Weirdness can cause confusion and sabotage your good intentions. Look at your headine with a fresh pair of eyes 24 hours after you've written it, and think which one, two or three words could be changed--even just slightly--to make them a bit more interesting. It could make the difference between life and death for your advertising's effectiveness.

Jerry Fisher is an advertising copywriter, consultant and author of Creating Successful Small Business Advertising ($39.95), available by calling (800) 247-6553. If you'd like Jerry to consider your materials for a makeover in this column, send them to "Advertising Workshop," Entrepreneur, 2392 Morse Ave., Irvine, CA 92614, or contact Jerry via America Online at

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This article was originally published in the September 1997 print edition of Entrepreneur with the headline: Fire Starters.

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