How to Tell the Difference Between a Winning and Losing Headline


In the 1920’s, a copywriter named Max Sackheim wrote an advertisement for a book entitled, “How to Master Good English in 15 Minutes a Day,” by Sherwin Cody.

It was one of the most successful direct response advertisements ever written.

The publisher hired other copywriters to try and outdo Sackheim’s. But every time they tested headlines against Sackheim’s, his version won.

The ad ran for decades, and copywriters continue to study and copy it today.

Here are two headlines. One of them was Sackheim’s winner. The other was a challenger that didn’t come close to outperforming Sackeim’s.

Headline 1: “Do You Make These Mistakes in English?” (followed by a picture of Sherwin Cody, 1,000 words of copy, and a coupon to get the book).

Headline 2: “The Man Who Simplified English” (followed by the same).

Which is the winner and why?

Here’s a hint: One of these headlines screams, “Look at ME!” The other asks, “What’s up with YOU?”

Do you have it now?

The first headline is the winner. It outperformed the challenger two to one.

The great adman and copywriter John Caples dissects the competing headlines in his book “Making Ads Pay — Timeless Tips for Successful Copywriting.”

Caples says the losing headline “is written from the wrong angle.” It’s all about the seller, not the buyer.

Caples calls this “manufacturer’s copy” because it puts all the emphasis on the manufacturer.

“The manufacturer is simply saying, ‘Look at me! Look at what I did! Look at what a great guy I am’” Caples says.

Caples calls the winning headline “self-interest copy” because it speaks directly to the prospect and implies there is valuable information below.

Plus, the ad sparks curiosity.

If someone is prone to making mistakes in English, they’ll see that headline and wonder, “Which mistakes?” and keep reading. The headline puts the spotlight on “you,” the prospect. And it implies that something will be revealed below — something of value, something that will help you correct those mistakes.

The best marketing shines the spotlight on the prospect. It reflects their experience. It crafts a story they can relate to. It invites them to say, “Yes! That’s me.”

When prospects can relate to the headline you write, to the story you tell, they want to read on. They like and trust you more because you get them. They feel inspired to act because your offer is relevant to them.

That adds up to happy customers and more sales for you.

Want to discover how to tell stories that prospects can relate to so they’ll read on, and buy? I’ll show you how in our free training: “How to Harness the Magnetic Power to Captivate Prospects and Inspire Them to Act.” It’s free. Learn more and register here.

Thanks for reading.

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Tom Ruwitch

Tom Ruwitch is the founder and CEO of Story Power Marketing. For more than 30 years, he has helped businesses grow by delivering powerful stories using a variety of different media.