While you may have been taught never to judge a book by its cover, it’s arguably ill-judged to apply this wisdom to advertising. After all, punchy and engaging headlines enable brands to initially capture the attention of customers, which is crucial if they’re ultimately to convert consumers and sell their products.

There’s evidence to support this assertion too, with a 2017 study by Buzzsumo highlighting a clear theme amongst the most successful and engaging headlines. More specifically, winning headlines tended to include persuasive and compelling statements such as “this will make you”, which engage the reader’s curiosity and subtly encourage further brand interaction.

While this study was limited to headlines published online, the rule can also be applied to all forms of advertising. In this post, we’ll consider the importance of headlines to out-of-home (OOH) advertisements, while asking how this impacts on the success (or failure) of a campaign.

What is a Headline in Advertising?

In simple terms, an advertising headline announces your content and is designed to be the first piece of copy read by a potential consumer.

In the case of an OOH advert such as a 48 or 96-sheet billboard, a headline is likely to be presented in a large font and bold colours that enable it to stand out visually from the remainder of the content.

Chip billboard

However, it will also need to be concise and punchy, without compromising on the core messaging of the brand in question or the quality of the writing on show.

This can represent a significant challenge for marketers, which is why brands often task specialist copywriters to draft headlines that make the most of the medium while also presenting a strong value proposition to a target audience.

A skilled writer will also use their talents to connect a headline with the remaining content, creating a consistent and easy to understand a message that effectively engages customers.

Are there Different Types of Headline?

Marketers will tell you that there are essentially two types of advertising headline, with the first of these relating to copy that works in tandem with a particular image.

It’s this type of headline that’s particularly prominent on OOH ads and billboards, as large-format adverts have the capacity to leverage the power of both words and imagery to create messaging that’s greater than the sum of its parts.

A prime example of this comes from a Gordon’s Gin ad campaign from last year, which featured interactive digital displays at bus stops and in busy commuter locations. These ads featured various headlines such as “Too busy for a 5 pm G&T” and bright images of the iconic gin, creating a simplistic for a compelling message that engaged individuals on multiple levels.

By creating a campaign that switched headlines and images according to factors such as weather and the time of day, the brand was able to leverage its ad content more effectively and realise the full potential of its headline copy.

The second type of headline is less prominent in OOH advertising, simply because it includes a standalone copy that does not need or rely on an accompanying message.

This requires an extremely well-thought-out and powerful headline, although a copywriter may have more scope with regards to the word count that they’re required to operate within.

While it isn’t technically an ad campaign, the political activists Led By Donkeys recently published a series of billboards designed to expose the lies and propaganda that surrounded the campaign to extradite the UK from the European Union.

Led By Donkeys

This billboards were largely image-free and simply quoted the lies of specific politicians as headlines, creating compelling copy that provided a stark insight into the group’s motivations.

They also highlight how image-free ads can feature longer and more striking headlines while throwing open the boundaries in terms of creativity and wordplay.

How Can You Write Great Headlines?

In many ways, a great headline and OOH ad starts with a detailed and informative creative brief, which provides crucial building blocks in terms of demographics, purpose and the unique selling proposition of a particular product or service.

A marketing team or studio can then bring these elements together in a single and persuasive advert, which features concise copy and a seamless link between the words and imagery on show.

From here, there are other steps that you can take to craft a great headline for your OOH ad. These include:

Understand your Audience and Location

Ultimately, the headline copy that you use must resonate with a specific target audience, and you may find that you need to create various iterations of content as part of a larger campaign.

Similarly, the location in which your outdoor ad will be erected is an incredibly important consideration, as you’re bound to incur fluctuations in terms of footfall and the amount of time that passers-by are exposed to your advert.

footfall

This is particularly true if you use digital billboards, as these channels require advertisers to share space with alternative brands. As a result, their ad will be rotated during each sixty-second period, with its content only visible for 10 seconds at a time.

This will have a direct impact on the nature of your headline and the way in which you communicate your primary message, with concise copy written in an active tense most likely to grab the attention of customers and create a genuine sense of urgency.

Distinguish between Primary, Secondary and Tertiary Messages

When marketing a product, brands often develop different tiers of marketing message based on the target market and the unique selling proposition.

There’s an important reason for this; as it enables marketers to tailor their messaging across a host of different channels, from social media platforms to long-form blog posts and 30-second television slots.

In the case of billboards, the combination of text and imagery places certain restrictions on the length of copy, forcing writers to minimise the number of characters that they use without compromising on the quality of the ad.

With this in mind, it’s absolutely imperative that you distinguish between primary, secondary and tertiary messages from the outset, as this enables you to have a structured approach to your work and create copy that targets audiences in the most effective way possible.

Start Writing and Don’t Censor Yourself

Self-censorship is a significant issue for writers of all descriptions, as this can prevent them from exploring creative themes and realising a brief to its full potential.

This can take numerous forms, from instinctively rejecting ideas without consideration to becoming preoccupied with creating clever and amazing headlines from the outset.

Mini Billboard

To avoid this, you need to clear your mind and actively begin the process of recording your ideas, writing down any themes or concepts that initially pop into your mind. You should also constantly refer to a product’s key selling points and the fundamental components of a campaign, as this enables you to hone your ideas and evaluate them in the correct context.

Most importantly, penning these ideas freely and reviewing them may open up your mind to new concepts and themes, while ultimately ensuring that you create the best possible headline for your campaign.

10 of Advertising’s Best Headlines

History is littered with headlines that have encapsulated these rules, with one of our favourite examples being Hoover’s iconic “it beats as it sweeps as it cleans” copy from a 1956 advertising campaign.

Few headlines have captured the essence of a product or the imagination of consumers quite like this, with the combined impact of copy, imagery and video helped to establish the brand as a key market leader.

We’ve also included some similarly effective ad headlines from a wealth of channels below, each of which has helped brands to achieve some key marketing objectives:

 

  • McEnroe swears by them – Nike
  • Picks up five times more women than a Lamborghini – Daihatsu
  • Yesterday you said tomorrow – Nike
  • Hello, boys – Wonderbra
  • In opinion polls, 100 percent of Economist readers had one – The Economist
  • Stop Dreaming and Start Dreaming – Ikea
  • Absolute power corrupts. Enjoy -Apple
  • Cheap enough to say, Phuket I’ll Go – Air Asia
  • Where the women you hate have their hair done – Horst Salons
  • They laughed when I sat down at the piano – but when I started to play! – U.S. School of Music

The Last Word

These examples of great headline copy were often combined with bold and striking imagery, while they also pushed the boundaries of creativity, taste and humour in order to present truly engaging messaging.

In short, they embody everything that’s good about creative advertising copy, and the type of headlines that capture the attention of a target market and compel them to interact further with a specific brand.

By reviewing these and following the tips that we’ve laid out here, we hope you can emulate some of history’s most famous ad headlines and breathe new life into your outdoor marketing campaigns!