Head Long

Is it too much of a stretch to get your prospect to read a headline the length of your arm?
Magazine Contributor
3 min read

This story appears in the July 2003 issue of Entrepreneur. Subscribe »

Typically, good advice on writing advertising headlines is: The shorter, the better. After all, why smack readers with a long string of words when it's hard enough getting their attention with a short headline? But there are some exceptions to the rule. Especially when the message you think will "sing" to your target market begs dramatization (and if you have the budget for an ad big enough to accommodate it). It's a risk, given the impatience of the average consumer. But sometimes it's a risk worth taking.

That's the case here, in which HealtheTech Inc., a maker of weight-management products in Golden, Colorado, headlines the lament of the frustrated weight-gainer: "It's not fair. If I even look at food, I gain weight. And my sister can eat anything and never put on a pound. Will somebody please explain." Whew! Twenty-eight words. End to end, they stretch 2 feet. But it's a set of words that grabs the prospect's attention by strategically highlighting the phrase "gain weight" in orange and placing it at the far right, where it will stick out.

The headline is a setup to explain HealtheTech's metabolism-measuring device, the BodyGem. By breathing into it, says the manufacturer, you'll get a reading on your metabolic rate and thus know the number of calories you burn on a given day. The figure will let you "finally know how many calories you can eat and still lose weight."

HealtheTech has a big challenge in not only introducing an unusual product, but also asking readers to take action immediately. However, the firm gets an A+ for an effective headline that reaches the prospect, followed by a solid explanation of the benefits. Also, notice the clever use of the oversized captions in the photos. They serve as subheads and draw your eye to two supporting messages: "It's not you, it's your metabolism" and "A simple breath test can measure yours." Just by reading the headline and the two captions, the prospect gets the essence of the sales pitch and is, hopefully, motivated to read further.

Where a headline is concerned, don't rule out a longer one when you've got a powerful message. At the same time, remember to format it with plenty of surrounding white space. Without this luxury, the reader would be faced with an inhospitable wall of words.

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

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