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Where Are You Headed?

Sometimes it's not as much what your headline says as where you place it.

An advertising guru of considerable stripe once made the pronouncement, "Copy is king"-meaning the sales message in an advertisement is more important to its success than the visual component. But today, in an era filled with dancing banner ads and animated e-mail, words go down better when they're presented in an arresting visual setting-even in print ads. That's certainly the case for the ad highlighted here, where the provocative composition of the headline draws readers in for a look-see.

Produced for the Office of Economic Development in Oakland, California-an organization whose purpose is to attract businesses to relocate to the city-this ad gets an A+ for the way its unique, stacked headline blocks attract (or, one might say, distract) the eye. Because it's hard to lasso racing readers, especially with a long headline, it takes a mold-breaking composition like this one to pull the prospect in. You can't help but be drawn to follow this headline's stagger, with different-sized stepping stones, from the top left corner of the ad to the middle. Equally important is the way it's broken into fragments of phrases and individual words, each offered in a different type size. But make no mistake, this mosaic wasn't just thrown together. A lot of thought was put into making words like "heck" and "Oakland" leap out of the pack.

That said, the question always remains: Does this ad do the job of getting businesses interested in moving to Oakland? To be honest, I'm not crazy about the oblique message in the headline, even though I know what it's getting at. But the headline graphic made me quite willing to read the body copy, a message that makes persuasive points about the benefits Oakland has to offer over its more celebrated-and costlier-sister city: "People tend to be more familiar with a famous neighbor of ours. But as 300 new businesses will tell you . . . office rents are lower than San Francisco."

What should you take away here? Before assuming that the best presentation of your headline-which is perhaps the most important element of any ad-is three lines of horizontal verbiage stacked on the top shelf, stop and ask: "Is this the most compelling way I can present this headline?" The answer will probably be no.


Jerry Fisher is a freelance advertising copywriter and author of Creating Successful Small Business Advertising.

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This article was originally published in the April 2002 print edition of Entrepreneur with the headline: Where Are You Headed?.

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