We all accept the advice of ‘Madman’ advertising guru David Ogilvy , that headlines are the make or break element of any writing, and that we should spend as much time on the headline as we spend on everything else.
This was true in the Madman days, and is equally true now, and perhaps even more important as the volume of stuff coming at us has multiplied geometrically in the last 20 years. We are now less likely to skim the sub head and body copy of an article with a mildly interesting headline than we were 20 years ago.
You must catch them with the headline.
It certainly holds true on this blog.
I can write what I think is an important, original post, that lacks an arresting headline, (and I do follow Ogilvy’s advice) and it will get no traction, but what I regard as a modest piece with a good headline, will attract readers, on an ongoing basis. Many will not come back, if the post lacks the ‘punch’ of originality and relevance to them, but without the headline they do not get the choice.
So what is the best headline ever written?
I just put the question to Dr Google, and got a listing of 2.5 million articles in .44 seconds.
Trawling through the top 10 responses, which is all most of us do, gave me a heap of headlines, most of them coming from a small number of similar sources, none of which listed the one I think the best ever written.
For me, there are a number of contenders, but the winner is a 6 word headline written by Earnest Hemingway, reputedly to win a bet:
‘For sale. Baby shoes. Never worn.’
6 words that create curiosity, emotion, and a compelling desire to see what is next.
There are now many tools and lots of very good advice about how to craft a headline that works well, and many have great merit, but the real skill is evoking in the reader the compulsion to read more, and that is a rare creative skill, not available to digital tools.
While I am at it, I still think the best TV advertisement I have ever seen goes back to the sixties, for a long dead company, Union Carbide, advertising insulation.