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Psst! The Secret's Out

Hook 'em with the one word that leaves 'em begging for more.

Nudging itself onto the list of advertising's most magnetic words is an irresistible bonbon that few of us can pass over. That word is "secret." Others in the top five, in no particular order, are: "free," "new," "you," and "sale," with "sex" a steamy sixth.

I feel safe in saying that if you use the word "secret" in the headline or title of your ad or promotion, your ad is almost guaranteed to get noticed, which is half the battle.

Of course, you need to eventually reveal the secret, and it has to be a satisfying payoff. But that shouldn't be difficult. Any useful information that is not widely known to the general public could arguably be designated a secret. And the titillation created by promising to divulge such valuable yet little-known data is simply too enticing to pass up.

Who can resist sneaking a peek into a supermarket tabloid with the headline "The Secret Life of (fill in the blank)"? Who can deny having felt compelled, some time in the last year, to peek into a book, magazine article or ad that purported to offer the secret to larger, smaller, better or healthier versions of something we felt we were lacking or had too much of. Secret is surely the word of the decade for publishers in the natural health/alternative healing field, who lead off their promotions with high-decibel headlines such as "Amazing Fat-Burning Secrets from Nature!" "1,749 Astounding Self-Healing Secrets!" and "137 Startling Pet Health Secrets!" We are enticed by secret recipes, secret remedies, secret formulas, secret ingredients, secret sources, secret anything and everything. The reason is simple: We are innately and insatiably curious about anything hidden or unexplained.

The point I'm making here--especially to an entrepreneur named Brian Beswick, who wrote recently--is that the discriminate use of this magnetic term can give your advertising just the draw it needs. I say discriminate because Beswick, an insurance broker from Baldwin, New York, has already used the term in his sales letter headline, but it could be implemented a lot more deftly--and certainly pay off more rewardingly.

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This article was originally published in the November 1997 print edition of Entrepreneur with the headline: Psst! The Secret's Out.

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