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The Secret Behind David Ogilvy’s Brilliant Headline Copywriting

“On the average, five times as many people read the headline as read the body copy. When you have written your headline, you have spent eighty cents out of your dollar.”
~ David Ogilvy

David Ogilvy is one of the greatest ad men ever. His contributions to the marketing industry are incalculable. And anyone in advertising couldn’t imagine a world without his iconic ads.

In his day, marketing budgets were spread amongst the traditional marketing outlets; magazines, newspapers and commercials, for example. But as we have transitioned into the digital age, what could we possibly learn from this classical ad man? Turns out, a lot.

Appealing to Your Audience

The above ad contains what is arguably considered the most famous headline of all time. But why is this? To answer that, we must think critically about the underlying message here and what Ogilvy is attempting to convey to readers.

“I don’t know the rules of grammar. If you’re trying to persuade people to do something, or buy something, it seems to me you should use their language.”
~ David Ogilvy

Imagine this scenario: It’s 1958, Americans have been living in a prosperous post-war era for years, and the automobile is the ultimate rolling status symbol. The folks at Rolls-Royce approach Ogilvy for promotion.

What could David possibly do to persuade buyers towards a Rolls-Royce versus the slew of other luxury options? In essence, a luxury car is just a luxury car, right? They all claim to be quick, comfortable and classy.

Ogilvy recognized the similarities between all the luxury automobile offerings and searched for a remarkable trait. A benefit that spoke to the audience. But what benefit would the upper-elite crave the most? The ad man knew an escape from the impoverished world is something the upper-class notoriously desire. Or in other words, they longed for peace and quiet. So by simply pulling a quote from the Technical Editor’s write-up in The Motor, he had his headline:

“At 60 miles an hour the loudest noise in this new Rolls-Royce comes from the electric clock.”

Eureka! He had struck advertising gold. And the rich and famous finally had an option to escape the average, everyday lower-class world while driving from mansion to beach-home.

Lesson: His headline spoke the language of the intended audience.

The Modern Day Challenge

You may be thinking, what does this have to do with Internet marketing? Well actually, everything. From landing page design to blog posts, the headline is vital. But first, we have to rethink the headline.

In web marketing, the modern day headline isn’t simply the start of your ad copy. But rather, it’s the link that must demand a click in Google’s SERP’s, the only thing a Twitter user reads next to a shortened URL, the bold headline font of a landing page, the clickable link in a Facebook share, the list goes on and on.

With the endless other distractions on the Internet, how can you attract their attention for longer than a split-second?

Thus, the challenge for modern day copywriting comes in when attempting to capture an audience’s attention while speaking to them in engaging yet understandable language.

The question I pose to you:

How can you craft a headline that speaks to your intended audience while staying relevant in all of these different modern day mediums?

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