Are these the best headlines ever written?

As it’s a Friday afternoon – well it is in Australia, anyhow – we thought we would indulge our love of great advertising by researching what happens when you put “The best ad headlines ever” into Google.

It’s not an idle, time-wasting vanity. Well, yes it is – but at MOP we are genuinely interested in the art of a great headline. Research shows it’s by far the most important component of any print ad, and for print ad we reckon you can pretty much also assume online ad, opening super on a TV or cinema ad, and so on.

durexSome of the examples in this post are copies of copies of copies from thirty or fifty years ago, so we apologise for any foxing or fuzziness. We thought you’d enjoy seeing the headlines more than worrying about that.

The first is a wonderful ad for UK condom manufacturer, Durex. It fits right in with their oft-demonstrated strategy of reminding men that sex causes children.

(A campaign which includes one of the funniest TV commercials ever made, starring Boris Becker as a tired father with a screaming kid. Look it up, it’s worth it.)

Anyhow, this is an unmissable proposition, leveraging the topicality of Father’s Day. Great work.

The second is a self-explanatory public health ad which we adore for its simplicity and impact.

Cancercures_thumb1Interestingly it’s also a good example of a linguistic tactic called a paraprosdokian: a paraprosdokian is a figure of speech in which the latter part of a sentence, phrase, or larger discourse is surprising or unexpected in a way that causes the reader or listener to reframe or reinterpret the first part. One of the best-known is Knowledge is knowing a tomato is a fruit; wisdom is not putting it in a fruit salad. By reversing the well-known phrase “Smoking cures cancer” the writer of this great, simple and powerfully memorable ad uses surprise to increase attention to the message.

Incidentally, if, like us, you love the wit of paraprosdokians you can learn more about them here and here.

HarleyThis very famous print ad for Harley Davidson reveals how well this iconic company understands their marketplace. But it is easy to forget that it wasn’t always thus. HD were languishing, being overtaken, if you’ll forgive the pun, by Japanese manufacturers, before they consciously decided to make themselves a “challenger” brand and focused real attention on their advertising.

This headline – which is actually another paraprosdokian but we’re not dwelling on them exclusively! – targets exactly the mind-set of those customers who want the Harley precisely because it is big, noisy, unwieldy, hard to ride, owned by people who identify as social rebels, and so on.

HSVYears later, we wrote a very similar series of ads that created a great boost in the sales of Holden Special Vehicles – another mode of transport with a highly eclectic buyer base and very counter-cultural.

By launching a new slogan – I just want one – we crystallised the defiant appeal of the hyper-powerful V8 supercars and sales soared. We are very proud of the fact that the slogan is still carried on the back of every HSV which is built, making it one of the longest-standing car slogans in Australia, if not the longest.

Think smallPerhaps the most famous headline of all time was this one, for the VW Beetle in the USA. The USA … land of gigantic gas guzzling cars. The ad agency figured – and persuaded the client – that the market was ready for a car that made a virtue of its small size, miserly petrol consumption, and more.

Of course, a lot else is good about the ad. How’s that for use of empty space in order to draw attention to your core product? Every inch of that dull grey background had to be paid for, but it hugely increases the impact of the ad, and serves to emphasise the VeeDub’s small size. And the body copy is sparse, and witty, yet informative.

The copy for the ad was written by Julian Koenig at DDB way back in 1959, and, indeed, their Volkswagen Beetle campaign was ranked as the best advertising campaign of the twentieth century by Ad Age, in a survey of North American advertisements.The campaign has been considered so successful that it “did much more than boost sales and build a lifetime of brand loyalty […] The ad, and the work of the ad agency behind it, changed the very nature of advertising—from the way it’s created to what you see as a consumer today.”

So can we learn anything from an ad written in 1959? We certainly can! We can learn it’s worth crafting every single ad we make to be as good as it can be.

De BeersOne of our favourite styles of advertising is where the whole ad is the headline. That’s not to say that we don’t love beautiful crafted body copy – we do, and it works, but by extending the headline a little you can make body copy irrelevant. In this case, to 27 words.

This De Beers ad – just one in a huge series that all reached an incredibly high standard of both writing and design, exemplifies the idea of the ‘whammo, everything in the headline ad’ perfectly.

Another we loved read “Remember when you got that variable speed hammer drill? It’ll make her feel like that.” We also liked “She’ll love you for who you really are. A lazy, beer-drinking, smelly-socked romantic.” Both 15 words.

So when your ad agency tells you a headline mustn’t be more than 8 words (an oft-repeated canard) direct them to this blog.

RRAnother example of a long, erudite headline (only in this case supported by long, erudite body copy) is the famous ad by legendary ad man David Ogilvy for Rolls Royce.

It is often used as a great example of how a brilliant copywriter can excel if he really takes the time to understand the technical nitty gritty of whatever it is he or she is being asked to sell.

What is not known is whether Ogilvy wrote the ad and then asked Rolls Royce if they could support the headline, or sat in a Rolls Royce and just made it up following the experience. Whichever way it went, the ad is one of the most often quoted when you ask “ad gurus” what their favourite piece of copy is.

EroticarOne of our favourite headlines from the thirty years or so of Magnum Opus’s work was the billboard for the new HSV Coupe.

Really, what else do you need to say about a car that looks as good as this?

MOPThe MOP insight for today is that if you can say it all in a headline, then you’ve probably got to the real core of what you’re trying to say, and that is always worth the effort.

Many advertisers do not make enough effort – or drive their agency hard enough – to get right to the core of the proposition. Maybe it’s because they fear there isn’t anything at the core.

But if there isn’t anything at the core that makes your business attractive, then the business has got a much bigger problem than how well it writes its ads …

Have a pleasant weekend, everyone.

Author: Stephen Yolland

Director of Creative Strategy and Partner @ Magnum Opus Partners.

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