Vulcan City Flu Plan Risks Mad Max Future?

You might already know that ‘AIDA’ (Attention – Interest – Desire – Action) is a popular axiom around which great copywriters can weave a story. But can you see how I used it in this post?

And in the hyperactive online world – where seconds become virtual eternities – the headline / subject field is in the front line of the battle for attention.

As a copywriter and ghostwriter I often find myself scanning headlines and email subject headers – to see if and how they pull me into reading the rest of the message.

Consider these three examples culled from a quick scan of today’s online papers.

The first two are from a UK national newspaper, The Independent.
The third is from N.Ireland’s main daily newspaper, The Belfast Telegraph.

Before you click on the three links, ask yourself two questions:

Is this headline making me curious to know more?

Do I ‘identify’ with what the topic is likely to be about?

1- Secret flu plan innoculates square mile

2- Mad Max’s Visit to the Movies Could cost him $450m

3- It’s Star Trek but not as we know it

All 3 subject lines pulled me in to read the rest of the story but I felt that #2 was the most enticing because of the s-e-x element (there’s a picture of Mel’s female companion at the top of the piece and I’d already been primed from previous news reports of his apparent marital problems. So, appropriate imagery can work wonders for click thru or retention rates!)

However, even without knowing who Mel G or Mad Max was, I still found this a great headline because of the outrageous sticker price on that movie visit. WTF?! I just had to read more and find out what was going on.
LESSON LEARNED: Provoke intense curiosity

Example #1 was an interesting example of a “geo-targeted” headline since few people outside of the UK (OK; or working anywhere in Financial Services) would know that the “square mile” is the City of London – the heart of the Financial network in central London.

Intrigue was also present because with swine flu all over the media (I’m literally sick of the news reports haha!), I got a swift mental image of forced inoculations happening to all those essential City workers. “Take this jab for the nation’s financial health” kinda rose into my awareness.

Reading the complete article, it seems the writer was given a green light to draw on some worst case simulations of what could happen in the UK following a major pandemic – a case of Dustin Hoffman’s “Outbreak” meets Mel’s post-apocalyptic Mad Max world. Wow! I somehow suspect that not many bankers will be working in those gleaming City Towers if that nightmare ever comes to pass.
LESSON LEARNED: Think of WHO your readers are and from WHERE they come from.

Example #3 was probably the weakest for me – but since it was published in the Entertainment section, I’m sure most readers could work out it referred to a movie. But only those readers who already know of Star Trek and of the good Doctor McCoy’s (nickname “Bones” ) assertions to Capt. Kirk that, “it’s life Jim but not as we know it”, would understand the pun in this headline at first pass.

For example, my elderly parents have heard of Star Trek and Mr. Spock but I doubt they know of that play on words the headline writer came up with. Your Target audience might NOT get your word play – but most Trekkie fans clearly will.
LESSON LEARNED: Don’t Make Your Readers work Too Hard to Understand the headline!

And what about the title of this blog post?
Well, if it aroused enough curiosity to click into the post I’ll be satisfied.

You see, we copywriters like to play with words and I enjoyed a 10 minute tinker with the 3 newspaper headlines to see what I could come up with. Call it ‘headline doodling’.

Just wait to I start on the Enquirer (US) and The Sun (UK)… at $750 a headline, I’d do rewrites for these guys.

Editors, contact me… and lock in a special rate.

– Mark ‘intergalactic headline writer’ McClure


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About the Author
Author: Mark McClure - A freelance b2b case study and white paper writer to the computer networking industry. Based in Tokyo, Japan. About the 'Samurai Writer'.

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