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How Would You Rate This Headline?

June 12th, 2008 by Bob Bly

I received a mailing today promoting a stock newsletter.

In big, bold type, the headline on the outer envelope reads:

Inside: Three stocks set to quadruple in price in the next 12 months.

Now, if you are a new copywriter … or new to financial subscription promotion … you might think this is a good headline.

But to anyone with experience, it’s fairly lame.

Yes, it makes a big promise.

The problem is, I — and everyone else on the mailing lists used in financial direct mail — have read this headline (or others nearly identical) about a zillion times before.

The lack of originality robs it of impact — and reminds us that it’s a pure sales pitch.

You can’t know this unless you are an active writer or reader of financial DM.

That’s why you need to be on as many mailing lists as you can — online and offline — and read all the print and Internet promotions that come your way.

Not only does this give you ideas and show you what’s working.

But it also educates you on what has been done to the death — and should be avoided in your own work.

Doctors, engineers, and scientists keep up with the latest developments and current activity in their respective fields.

Copywriters and marketers must, too.

So … how would YOU rate “Three stock set to quadruple in price in the next 12 months” as a headline — good, bad, or terrible?


This entry was posted on Thursday, June 12th, 2008 at 3:07 pm and is filed under General. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. You can leave a response, or trackback from your own site.

26 responses about “How Would You Rate This Headline?”

  1. Brett Owens said:

    Must be an Agora piece – every direct mail I get from them seems to contain some variation of that headline. Pretty lame to me.

  2. Patti Renner said:

    Terrible! Envelope copy like this makes me crazy. It’s such a waste. The letter inside may be fantastic, but few people will ever feel its power because the envelope wording wasn’t just weak – it’s actually a turn off! What should be magnetic… drawing the reader into the delicious information inside… in this case repels them.
    Frankly, I feel bad for the company that sent out the package in the first place. All the money wasted on a mailing few will open… all the lost revenues that could be flowing to them if they had only chosen better words. It really drives home the importance of a well-crafted line – especially when its on the “billboard” of an outer envelope. Thanks for sharing it.

  3. Bob Bly said:

    Brett: it’s a large financial publisher, but not Agora.

    Patti: while I agree the line is mediocre at best and weak at worst, we don’t actually know whether the piece is working. So far, only the publisher knows — and not even him if it’s too early after the mail drop.

  4. Patti Renner said:

    Okay, Mr. Bly. Point taken. It’s the reason we agonize over such things. But have you ever seen a lame headline like the one you shared that tests better than a stronger one? It may be a matter of opinion, but I’m curious if you have.

  5. Bob Bly said:

    Patti: the unfortunate answer is “yes — many times.” This is why being a direct response copywriter is a humbling experience. Often your brilliant copy flops, and just as often, a piece you think isn’t so great pulls like gangbusters.

  6. Jim Logan said:

    Bob: To your last comment about brilliant copy that flops and weak copy performing well…I recently experienced that very thing.

    A “weak” lead generation letter I wrote for a company earned 3X the response of the “brilliant” one I first wrote as a control. I was really proud of the first one – technically it’s better. But the weak one is creating appointments. I’m now testing to learn why – headline, quote, guarantee, order, etc.

    Test, test, and test again.

  7. Brian said:

    I’m in the finance world, not the advertising world and I agree, this thing would be going straight to the shredder unopened. But I’m not sure I agree on the reason. This is a poor lead even if I’ve never heard/read it before.

    Anyone in finance knows that this isn’t the kind of claim an investment advisor should be making or that an investor should be paying any attention to. I’m not saying it never happens, just that it is folly to go chasing such expectations.

    So, if that’s what you are leading with, I thank you for not beating around the bush in telling me everything I need to know about the way you do business. And then, like I said, straight to the shredder.

  8. Bob Bly said:

    Brian: you have to know your audience. In this case, the mailing is going to a list of people who subscribe to investment newsletters. As publisher Porter Stansberry has said, these people do not want to know how to invest. During the height of the era, I had great success with this headline: “The One Internet Stock You MUST Own Now! Hint: It’s NOT the One You Think.”

    They basically want to hear a story about a stock that could double in 12 months. So the IDEA of the promotion is right on the money. It’s the execution that’s faulty, because it’s old, tired, and over-used.

  9. Lou Wasser said:

    Speaking as a copywriter and a former investments salesman, I can assure you the Devil is in the details. And this promo’s paltry lack of details certainly goes a long way towards making it “lame.”

    Stocks in what sector? Energy? Pharmaceuticals?
    Hi Tech? Particularly in this economy, to part with his dollar,an investor wants to know about a specific driving force or catalyst that’s going to quadruple a stock. Are we talking about a new drug to inhibit the growth of malignant tumors? Are we talking about the discovery of new gold Deposits in Peru?

    Granted, this is a lot of information to ask of a mere headline. But at least give us some kind of specific hint or coming attraction.

    And why THREE stocks quadrupling? Is this some kind of magic dance? Do they move at once? Is there a shaman at work here?

    “I’ve Got A Bridge In Brooklyn I want to Sell You” has more possibilities than the promise on the envelope you received.

  10. Ken said:

    Does old, tired and over-used always equal ineffective?
    And is it old, tired and over-used because we as copywriters have deemed it so, or because it doesn’t work anymore?
    If it gets opened, it’s great…if it doesn’t, it stinks. Isn’t it ultimately up to the newsletter subscribers to decide?

  11. Igor Boyko said:

    I suppose, it’s a bad headline.
    Better “Three stocks set to quadruple in price in the next 3 months.”

  12. Dave Simon said:

    It is always fun to hear copywriters talk about what is a good headline or not. To me, the only opinion that counts is the people who are getting the piece of direct mail. If it sells, then it is a good headline. If it doesn’t, it ‘aint!
    A simple A/B split test will give you the results that you need to judge the effectiveness of any headline or envelope teaser copy. Remember: You are NOT your customer. Their’s is the only opinion that counts. If you write to impress other copywriters with you cleverness you are doomed.

  13. Jodi Kaplan said:

    Is it clever and original? Not really. However, as with all direct marketing, the real question is, did it work?

  14. Dina said:

    Although I am new to direct response copywriting, I am not new to marketing.

    I find this headline to be very bland… easily overlooked. In the words of Seth Godin, unremarkable. But as it has been pointed out already, I am NOT the customer…maybe 🙂

    I think the market/customer dictates what is an effective, converting headline. And, what works in one industry may not work in another.

    For an investor, there is no pull in this headline. It is general, and too broad. It requires the reader to do too much work… just how much is quadruple in this case?

    That’s just my uneducated opinion, from the newbie on the block 🙂


  15. Dianna Huff said:

    As a person who reads investment articles, I would by-pass this one. Too gimmicky.

  16. Bob Bly said:

    Dina: there is no ambiguity in “quadruple,” which means a 300% gain. If you buy $10,000 worth of the stock, and it quadruples, it’s now worth $40,000, giving you a $30,000 profit before commissions.

  17. CharityPrater said:

    You don’t need to be a carpenter to build a deck. You don’t need to be a programmer to create a website. You don’t need to be a mathematician to buy stocks. And you certainly don’t have to be a writer to write direct mail.

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