From the December 1997 issue of Entrepreneur

In last month's column, I strutted out like some kind of advertising drum major holding aloft one of advertising's most powerful words and suggesting you put it in your ad's headline because of its ability to draw people in.

That word was "secret." And my exact wording in November's issue was, "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."

Well, sure enough, after putting myself on the line with such a blanket statement, I got my comeuppance just a week later in the form of an ad that arrived in my mailbag using the S-word in the headline. The ad apparently had not gotten a lot of notice. It had run months earlier, so it hadn't been created based on my recommendation. But the fact that it did what I suggested and still came up short gave me a sick feeling.

The ad was sent in by Joe Tye, a motivational author and speaker from Solon, Iowa, who requested that I take a look at the ad--promoting one of his seminars--for possible ways to improve its performance. I took one look at the ad and slunk down in my chair. There it was, the word I proclaimed to be among the most potent in the universe, wedged in a headline that simply didn't benefit from the "secret" spark.

But before ripping off my copywriter epaulets in disgrace and despair, I realized this ad didn't give "secret" nearly the marquee setting it requires. So if there's an asterisk to be added to my earlier proclamation, it's that the word needs to "get in the face" of the reader. That is, it needs to be big and intrusive enough to be noticed instantly. Moreover, as I pointed out last month, if the word "secret" is in the headline, the ad needs to actually reveal or hint at some of that hush-hush information or else readers are left feeling unsatisfied, indifferent or duped. Tye's ad, while containing some solid salesmanship that includes a headline that hardly needs apologizing for, is missing such impact, both visually and in the fact that none of the secrets are even hinted at.

My suggestion is to create a new headline using the word "secrets" and then provide a sneak preview of the enticing, little-known information, with the implication that there's a lot more where that came from.


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 Jerry228@aol.com..

Give Away (A Little Of) The Store

The focus of Tye's seminars is to persuade attendees to adopt certain principles of strategy and success used by leaders on the battlefield. Based on that, I recommend coupling the S-word with another word for a big headline that barks out: "Military Secrets . . ." followed by the words, "that give you the weapons for success--in business and in life." The headline is then followed by copy that leads into the body of the ad and that borrows from the original headline: "History's greatest leaders have a lot to teach us in accomplishing our personal and professional goals. A new seminar reveals their winning strategies and how to use them to improve your life. For example . . ."

At this point, Tye needs to give prospects a taste of some of the secrets. He should fashion hints, or "teasers," that give enough information to entice but not enough to reveal.

This approach can and does work in promoting a whole range of products and services. Here are a few well-crafted examples I found in other advertising efforts specifically promising to reveal "secrets" you can benefit from. Use these teasers as a benchmark for your own efforts to entice but not reveal.

  • "Simple weekend jobs that pay more than your full-time job."
  • "How to call anywhere on earth for just 5 pennies a minute."
  • "How to sleep like a baby through the next stock market crash."
  • "Seven days out of the year when auto dealers are desperate to sell."
  • And then there's my all-time favorite teaser: "What never to eat on an airplane."

In addition to the use of such seductive hints, I think Tye needs to cattle-brand his ad with a more powerful-looking imprint of the name of his seminar, Success Warrior. Right now it's printed in a light color and climbs up the left side of the ad, looking a bit like an afterthought. I think a strong image running across the bottom of the ad announcing "Success Warrior Seminars" would complement the bold new headline.

Finally, the testimonials and endorsements in the ad need to be more prominent. I would do that by extracting an impressive snippet from each testimonial and using it as a headline for the corresponding quote.

I think these suggestions will give Joe Tye's seminar ads a much stronger presence.

Copy Capsules

As imposing as the new headline on Tye's ad is, often readers simply will not read beyond those opening words. Think how little you read of many ads apart from the headline and perhaps the subhead. That's because most of us look at ads as if they were miniature billboards--giving them a quick glance as we're on the way to somewhere else. So no matter how brilliantly you may lay out a sales argument in the body copy, it may not get read for one simple reason: It looks like work.

Take a lesson from advertisers who deliberately ladle on great steaming gobs of copy in places such as electronics and computer catalogs to appeal to information junkies. They know they have to do a lot of selling to motivate a reader to make an instant buying decision on a expensive item. So despite their long copy, visual relief is interspersed throughout so the copy appears in digestible bites and is therefore easier to read.

You can fashion such copy bites or capsules in a number of ways. One is with bulleted "blurbs" (such as in Tye's new ad). Another is with "callouts," which are bits of copy that surround and describe a picture of the item you're selling. Each callout can make a sales pitch while pointing to the item. Another way to attract readership is with photo captions. Almost everyone is drawn to captions, so it's a perfect location to make an important point. Lastly, in larger ads, sectioning off two or more paragraphs into a sidebar is a way to break up the copy and, at the same time, attract the eye to a special and easy-to-read feature.

Remember: Your advertising is an uninvited guest in the reader's editorial sanctuary--a good reason to make your message read and look as enticing as possible.

Contact Source

Paradox 21 Inc., P.O. Box 480, Solon, IA 52333, http://www.nfnq.com