Bullet 7

Can You Pick the Winning Headline?

Dear Marketing Top Gun:Which headline was the winner for an aspirin company giving away a free sample bottle?

Headline A:

Tension Headache?

Or Headline B:

When Doctors Have Headaches,What Do They Do?

Clue: In Bullet #3, “The Two Most Important Words in Advertising,” I gave you one of the most valuable secrets you’ll ever read for consistently boosting your response in today’s skeptical, over-marketed world. Let me repeat that secret, because in our search for ever more powerful claims, we can forget it too easily. As a general rule…


Never make your claim bigger than your proof. And always join your claim and your proof at the hip in your headlines, so that you never trumpet one without the other.There is no more powerful nor consistent way to explode your response. Surround your claims with stronger, bolder proof and watch your response soar.

I advise this not because it’s the honest thing to do, which is of course commendable. (I sound like Henry Kissinger, who once described an official government explanation as not only acquitting the US of any wrongdoing, but also having “the additional side benefit of actually being true.”)

No, I recommend this mainly for its awesome response-boosting power in attracting new customers.

From now on, whenever you face the question, “Which of these headlines or main themes will likely outpull the other?”, one of the most reliable ways to know in advance, without spending a dime on testing, is to ask, “Which offers the more compelling proof?”

This is so effective in predicting winners because your prospects use two razor-sharp questions to cut through their mail: “Is this of interest to me?” … and second, “Is it believable…or typical advertising hype?”

Most marketers and copywriters focus almost all their firepower on the first question, overlooking the second, which is why their response falls way short of what it could be.

Your prospects are not morons. They are as savvy as you. From birth, they have been educated about marketing by hundreds of thousands of over-promising messages. Your prospects have become like light-footed dancers running across a football field full of goose droppings. They deftly dodge over and around hundreds of unproven claims a day. They can spot your hype yards in advance.

This is why the smartest, most reliable way to get prospects to read your message and respond is not by cranking up the volume on your promise. That just makes it look like a bigger pile of hype. It is by raising the level of your proof, which sets you apart from the hype, deserving of further investigation.

With this in mind, let’s take another look at the two headlines. Which headline promises the reader more proof?

Headline A:

Tension Headache?

Or Headline B:

When Doctors Have Headaches, What Do They Do?

Of course, it’s Headline B, which ties the implied promise (a headache remedy) to a strong proof element, doctors.

When John Caples tested these two headlines, Headline B won by a fat and happy 71%.

It’s also a classic formula I’ve seen used with great success many times, for many health products and services. The single word “doctors” automatically raises response because it raises the level of proof.

It worked more than thirty years ago for John Caples. It was a big winner more than forty years ago, as reported by Vic Schwab in his wonderful book, How to Write a Good Advertisement, written in the 1960s. One of the 100 greatest headlines cited in Schwab’s book is,”When Doctors ‘Feel Rotten’ This Is What They Do.”

And it still works today. This headline’s great grandson is chalking up sales big time. The current control for Boardroom’s Bottom Line Health is, “How Doctors Stay Well While Treating Sick People All Day.” The headline combines a promise, proof, curiosity and an immediate reward for reading—a potent combination.

What Is Effective Advertising Anyway?

So there really are few new ideas under the sun.

And that brings me back to something else John Caples said. He defined effective advertising as, “A believable promise to the right audience.” Far too many copywriters and marketers focus on just the promise (the flashy, fun part), and ignore the more demanding challenge of building belief. But without belief, nobody buys.

Please mull that over again, slowly enough to let it seep into your marketing memory.

Without belief, nobody buys.

And without seeing in your headline a hint of proof, most prospects won’t even read your message.

So let your competitors crank up their claims to ever more unbelievable decibels. That’s not how you win the game of response. Yelling is not selling. Focus on beefing up your proof, and you’ll walk away smiling, a drum major who leads a long parade of customers who were enchanted to find a rare message—and a person—to believe in.

Remember this always—


Almost everyone in the world, in every field of human endeavor, is desperately searching for someone to believe in. Be that person and you can write your own ticket.

Belief is today’s most overlooked yet most powerful key to boosting response to any ad, in any medium. Harness it and you unleash the core atomic power for exploding response. Because the hunger for belief is so vast in every market, so deep-seated in human nature itself, you can tap into it again and again—infinitely—to make yourself and your clients rich.

Today, ask yourself how you can make your advertising more believable. Be ruthless—push yourself hard on this. Be a “yeah, sure”skeptic when you read every sentence and see what you’d change to make your copy almost impossible to refute.

Ask yourself, “What proof would I need to persuade a fair-minded jury beyond a reasonable doubt that my copy rings true?”

If the tough objections you raise expose bullet holes in your sales argument, patch them with stronger proof. If you don’t, sure as shootin’, your prospects will riddle your claims with those same bullet holes of skepticism. They can’t help it. It is their automatic response in a world awash in hype.

Heed what I say here and you will be startled at how powerfully and consistently you will be able to boost response to almost any advertisement.

Coming in Your Next Bullet

Your next issue will feature a Silver Bullet, one so special, it will change your life in many positive ways as soon as you start using it. It is one of the greatest secrets I have ever found for achieving enduring happiness. It is also the most effective way I know to turn virtually any situation, whether in marketing or any other area of life, to your advantage. It has made a profound difference in my own life, as I will share with you in your next Bullet.

Sincere wishes for a good life
and (always!) higher response,


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