I was paging through one of my favorite copywriting books this week. First published in 1962 and written by Victor O. Schwab, it’s called, How to Write a Good Advertisement.
There’s a chapter in the book called, “100 Good Headlines and Why They Were so Profitable”—for the sake of time, I decided to pull six of the headlines and showcase them for this post.
What I love about old headlines is that you can use their basic structure, edit them to fit your needs, and voilà …you have a great headline that gets attention. Don’t forget that many of these were successfully used before the early 1960’s.
Headline #1: You Can Laugh at Money Worries—If You Follow This Simple Plan
In my opinion, this one could still work “as is” today, but you could also replace “Money Worries” with “credit card debt”, “bankruptcy”, “student loan debt”, “the IRS”…you get the picture.
According to Schwab, this headline worked because most people want to be able to make their financial problems vanish.
Headline #2: How to Win Friends and Influence People
According to Schwab’s book, this headline sold millions of copies of Dale Carnegie’s book (first published in 1936) of the same name, How to Win Friends and Influence People.
Most likely it is the words, “How to” that grab the reader’s attention because they assume everything they need to know to be well-liked by people and more popular amongst them is in this book—and who doesn’t want that?
Headline #3: How a New Discovery Made a Plain Girl Beautiful
According to Schwab, this headline had mass appeal simply because there are more average-looking girls than beautiful ones…and almost all of them would like to improve their looks.
Here’s an updated version I wrote for today’s audience using the word “average” rather than “plain”…
“How This New Discovery Made an Average-Looking Girl Look Like a Celebrity Babe!”
Here’s another version for another product…
“How This New Discovery Can Give You the Six-Pack Abs You’ve Always Wanted!”
Headline #4: Do You Make These Mistakes in English?
According to Schwab, the word “these” is the hook in this headline…it lures the reader into the copy because he is wondering, “What are these mistakes?”…“Am I making them?”—if he is he wants to correct them.
I use this headline often by simply moving a few words around…
Do You Make These (fill-in-the-blank) Mistakes?
Headline #5: Who Else Wants a Screen Star Figure?
I don’t know too many people that use the words, “screen star” anymore…here’s a couple of updated versions I wrote for today’s audience…
Who Else Wants a Sexy Movie Star Figure?
Who Else Wants a Sexy Celebrity Figure?
I use the basic structure of this headline often…
Who Else Wants (fill-in-the-blank with a benefit)?
Who Else Wants to Lose 10 Pounds in the Next 60 Days?
According to Schwab, this headline worked because it pushed the reader to “get on the bandwagon” with everyone else…I mean how many people do you know that don’t want a better physique?
Headline #6: They Laughed When I Sat Down at the Piano—But When I Started to Play!
And finally…can you guess what modern-day product uses this classic headline from John Caples, copywriting genius and author of Tested Advertising Methods, for its well-known product ads?
Schwab believed this headline drew interest because it had “sympathy with underdog.”
He went on to say, “…an example of a headline which turns the corner by using a final tag line to make itself positive instead of negative.”
And now the answer to the question above—the Rosetta Stone language course ads.
They run a radio ad where a guy and his friends are in a French restaurant and he tells them that he is studying French…it goes something like this:
“My friends laughed when I told them I was studying French, but when the waiter came to the table…I just smiled and said, “Je voudrais le poulet roti.”
The Caples ad was originally written in 1926 and is still used today in the Rosetta Stone ad, nearly 90 years later.
Do you have any classic headlines that you like to use in your copy?
I’d love it if you’d comment below and share some of your favorite headlines!