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Headlines that perform: Why your creative matters


There’s a task in The Apprentice where the candidates have to make some adverts – usually TV, but more recently audio and digital OOH. Each year, without fail, Lord Sugar will berate one of the teams for producing an ad which doesn’t clearly portray the product. Here, for example, is a classic of the genre – adverts for two tissue brands…



“I don’t know what your bloody adverts about!” shouts Sir Alan to the producers of the ‘I Love My Tissues’ ad. The rival team, having created ‘Atishu’, win the task with a “…horrible advert, a horrible box” because they sold the product, it’s features, and benefits in the ad.

There is, of course, a place for high-end branding ads which barely mention the product, but in all honestly a new tissue brand probably isn’t it. But it’s not just apprentices that sometimes forget that the end user needs to understand what you’re in the business of selling! You can have all the digital adtech and targeting in the world, but if your creative is unclear, it’s unlikely to perform.

Here’s some anonymised ads (both direct response and sponsored content) headlines I’ve seen recently online:

Headline: Time for change Sponsored by: B2B Brand 

A change in your business, a change in their business, a change in the world? It wasn’t clear who the change was aimed at, what the change was, or who the change benefits. When we create headlines (and select images) for native sponsored content, we always think about the end user – what benefit will they get from spending time with this content? If there isn’t any clear reason to click, it’s destined to underperform even if what it’s clicking to is actually good.

Headline: Save £300 with our early bird pricing Sponsored by: Consumer Brand

I was unaware of the brand, so didn’t know what they sell. The image was of some electrical equipment, but it wasn’t clear what it was for, or what it did!

Outside of the very biggest brands, you should never assume that even your target audience has heard of you. Start with the basics – features and benefits! Features describes what the product does, benefits describe how buying this product can help you. So, how do you cover all of this in a snappy headline with a short character limit? Here’s a headline we recently ran for a water softener company:

Why a water softener is the ultimate beauty hack”

So, in 40 characters we’ve explained what we are selling and how it can benefit you. If you were considering a water softener, you can discover how it may help you look your best, if you weren’t considering a water softener but beauty is a priority in your life, you may well be enticed to see how it could help you achieve better skin. Put simply, it works both ways.

Here’s five essentials for producing crystal clear headlines that work for your audience…

5 ways to create headlines that perform

Be prescriptive. A prescriptive statement is stating what should happen, and in the context of advertising, that something desirable should happen if you follow our instruction. “Looking for promotion? Study at TAN University to boost your prospects”.

Be relevant. Clickbait only annoys the user and will result in poor results when they realise the headline isn’t related to the content.

Be positive. Think about the benefits to the reader’s life. Explain how buying this house will cut their commute in the headline.

Be educational. Think about the value exchange with the reader. Provide useful information they’ll find useful – the more engaging it is, the longer they’ll spend with your brand and content.

Be aspirational. Use emotive, aspirational adjectives. Words like stylish, amazing, luxury, stunning, dream, perfect – promise something valuable or emotionally stimulating, and in turn, generate high CTRs.