New! A Headline that sells!

There’s a very old book on advertising by John Caples called Tested Advertising Methods.

Although it was written 25 years before the creativity revolution’ that Bill Bernbach ushered in (think Mad Men), a lot of advice that Caples shares still rings true today.

Human nature hasn’t changed that much. We’re still busy, ignore most advertising , and still want to learn how to do stuff, be better at our jobs, have better relationships etc.

To John, most advertising was worthless because it was either trying to be clever or was simply meaningless. It didn’t carry a message and definitely didn’t encourage you to keep reading, or persuade you to buy something!

So what works?

Caples decided that there are four important qualities which a good headline may possess.”

  • Self-Interest
  • News
  • Curiosity
  • Quick, easy way

Appealing to self-interest was by far the most powerful.

On my way to work, I decided to review modern advertising against John’s standards. What would he think today?



Like most advertising tech & DTC products and services, there’s quite a bit of explaining that needs to be done. Overall a bit weak and lazily written. It’s slightly newsworthy, and slightly curious.


Vita Coco

This is basically saying, coconut water that tastes good. It could be re-written to inspire more curiosity or be more newsworthy, but I think this will be ignored.



Stating a fairly obvious fact (pizza delivery) in a clever way by using alliteration. John is not impressed.



John perks up. Mix of self-interest (“best vets”, your home”) and news. The writer could have easily added New!” Or Announcing Fuzzy…”. Listing the problems is also good, but would have been better if they said Fleas, ticks, allergies – Gone.”



I think John would have found this a bit too arty’. It’s a bit of news (a new crypto exchange) and self-interest without chaos”. It assumes the audience understands the mess and complexity associated with crypto trading, and promises to simplify. But I would add that using the word chaos is too negative and would freak out too many new prospects.


Oculus Quest

Self interest. Again, the words look like it’s been crafted by an art director to look good”. It’s an extremely news worthy product so I think John would have been more direct with it.



Headline is meaningless. But the sub headline speaks to the readers interest (someone who does a lot of video conferencing), and in general it sounds quick (“Instant”) and easy.


And just for reference, here’s a purely curiosity’ headline, that in 2019 we call clickbait.’ It doesn’t appeal to my self-interest, isn’t newsworthy & isn’t quick/easy. But sometimes our urge to find out a secret is just too strong! (34m views).


See! Want to read more?

June 28, 2019

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