The easiest way to get ideas for headlines is to keep a swipe file of successful headlines, and consult it for inspiration when you sit down to write a new promotion.
As a shortcut, here’s a partial collection of such headlines from my vast swipe file, organized by category so as to make clear the approach being used:
1. Ask a question in the headline.
“What Do Japanese Managers Have That American Managers Sometimes Lack?”
2. Tie in to current events.
“Stay One Step Ahead of the Stock Market Just Like Martha Stewart – But Without Her Legal Liability!”
3. Create a new terminology.
“New ‘Polarized Oil’ Magnetically Adheres to Wear Parts in Machine Tools, Making Them Last Up to 6 Times Longer.”
4. Give news using the words “new”, “introduction”, or “announcing”.
“Announcing a Painless Cut in Defense Spending.”
5. Give the reader a command – tell him to do something.
“Try Burning This Coupon.”
6. Use numbers and statistics.
“Who Ever Heard of 17,000 Blooms from a Single Plant?”
7. Promise the reader useful information.
“How to Avoid the Biggest Mistake You Can Make in Building or Buying a Home.”
8. Highlight your offer.
“You Can Now Subscribe to the Best New Books – Just as You Do to a Magazine.”
9. Tell a story.
“They Laughed When I Sat Down at the Piano…But When I Started to Play…”
10. Make a recommendation.
“The 5 Tech Stocks You Must Own NOW.”
11. State a benefit.
“Managing UNIX Data Centers – Once Difficult, Now Easy.”
12. Make a comparison.
“How to Solve Your Emissions Problems – at Half the Energy Cost of Conventional Venturi Scrubbers.”
13. Use words that help the reader visualize.
“Why Some Foods ‘Explode’ In Your Stomach.”
14. Use a testimonial.
“After Over Half a Million Miles in the Air Using AVBLEND, We’ve Had No Premature Camshaft Failures.”
15. Offer a free special report, catalog, or booklet.
“New FREE Special Report Reveals Little-Known Strategy Millionaires Use to Keep Wealth in Their Hands – and Out of Uncle Sam’s.”
16. State the selling proposition directly and plainly.
“Surgical Tables Rebuilt – Free Loaners Available.”
17. Arouse reader curiosity.
“The One Internet Stock You MUST Own Now. Hint: It’s NOT What You Think!”
18. Promise to reveal a secret.
“Unlock Wall Street’s Secret Logic.”
19. Be specific.
“At 60 Miles an Hour, the Loudest Noise in This New Rolls Royce Comes from the Electric Clock.”
20. Target a particular type of reader.
“We’re Looking for People to Write Children’s Books.”
21. Add a time element.
“Instant Incorporation While U-Wait.”
22. Stress cost savings, discounts, or value.
“Now You Can Get $2,177 Worth of Expensive Stock Market Newsletters for the Incredibly Low Price of Just $69!”
23. Give the reader good news.
“You’re Never Too Old to Hear Better.”
24. Offer an alternative to other products and services.
“No Time for Yale – Took College At Home.”
25. Issue a challenge.
“Will Your Scalp Stand the Fingernail Test?”
26. Stress your guarantee.
“Develop Software Applications Up to 6 Times Faster or Your Money Back.”
27. State the price.
“Link 8 PCs to Your Mainframe – Only $2,395.”
28. Set up a seeming contradiction.
“Profit from ‘Insider Trading’ – 100% Legal!”
29. Offer an exclusive the reader can’t get elsewhere.
“Earn 500+% Gains With Little-Known ‘Trader’s Secret Weapon.’”
30. Address the reader’s concern.
“Why Most Small Businesses Fail – and What You Can Do About It.”
31. “As Crazy as It Sounds…”
“Crazy as it Sounds, Shares of This Tiny R&D Company, Selling for $2 Today, Could be Worth as Much as $100 in the Not-Too-Distant Future.”
32. Make a big promise.
“Slice 20 Years Off Your Age!”
33. Show ROI (return on investment) for purchase of your product.
“Hiring the Wrong Person Costs You Three Times Their Annual Salary.”
34. Use a “reasons-why” headline.
“7 Reasons Why Production Houses Nationwide Prefer Unilux Strobe Lighting When Shooting Important TV Commercials.”
35. Answer important questions about your product or service.
“7 Questions to Ask Before You Hire a Collection Agency…And One Good Answer to Each.”
36. Stress the value of your premiums.
“Yours Free – Order Now and Receive $280 in Free Gifts With Your Paid Subscription.”
37. Help the reader achieve a goal.
“Now You Can Create a Breakthrough Marketing Plan Within the Next 30 Days … for FREE!”
38. Make a seemingly contradictory statement or promise.
“Cool Any Room in Your House Fast – Without Air Conditioning!”
Bob Bly is the author of “World’s Best Copywriting Secrets” and has written copy for more than 100 companies including IBM, Boardroom, Medical Economics and AT&T. He is the author of more than 75 books and a columnist for Target Marketing, Early To Rise and The Writer. McGraw-Hill calls him “America’s top copywriter”.