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Can You Write 100 Headlines?

3 min read

I'm a Creative Director, working in the advertising and design industries for over 15 years.
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Sally Hogshead wrote that to arrive at a single headline, you need to write 100. Even though I'm sure most copywriters do closer to 20 or 30, there are plenty of times creatives still need to do that. In fact, Sally wrote closer to 800 to find the best one for her BMW client.

It's practically required, to find the perfectly crafted line to appeal to everybody equally. It's like finding a needle in a haystack full of dull needles.

And there's a reason for that: literally everyone needs to like it.

Think about it. This headline has to be great to millions and millions of potential viewers. Because that's the way advertising works. We put all our eggs in one basket.

But we don't have to. Not anymore. Not always. Now, we have the ability to say different things to different people. Or in other words, the right thing to the right person.

"Best" Is Subjective

I've written about a copywriter that worked with me, who wrote 300 headlines, and her creative director told her none were the best. TL;DR - His opinion didn't matter, because the lines the audience liked best, were the best.

A lot of the discussion about that article is around auto-optimization, or throw a bunch at the wall and see what sticks, as some would say. To be clear, that's not what I'm talking about there. It's about letting the people choose what they like, from what we give them.

But since then, we've gotten better.

What Matters to You, Doesn't Matter to Me

Get ready for me to blow your mind: people like different things. Hard to imagine, I know. Yet, we create as if that's not obvious.

I've made the analogy that data is putting the perfect toppings on a pizza, so that you love it more than a normal pizza. Use the wrong toppings (the wrong data for that person), or make a shitty pizza (it was just bad creative to begin with), and the whole thing is spoiled.

Traditionally, creatives have made one big pizza. We use the best dough, the best sauce, and the best cheese we can. But in the end, it's still just a cheese pizza. Every once in a while, someone takes a risk, and makes a pepperoni pizza instead, which some people love even more, but completely ignores the vegetarians.

What I'm saying is to make a bunch of personal pizzas. Each with a different topping. The people who like pepperoni get pepperoni, vegetarians get peppers and mushrooms, and meat lovers get the works. And some people even get cheese.

Or in other words, figure out the different groups of people you're talking to. Then, customize the creative to those groups. And in this case, the headlines are the toppings.

A Different Headline For Everyone

Okay, most of what I said sounds pretty good to a lot of people. But here's the slice that's harder to swallow.

When you have to make so much creative, with so many different messages, you need to change the way you create. We can't write 100 lines to find the one best one. Because we don't need one. We need one for each of the different groups we're talking to.

Shooting blindly, hoping our single, best message will resonate with everyone, that's the challenge we've always put upon ourselves. But if we don't focus on the "best" message, and instead focus on the "right" message, then our job is actually easier. But the more focused your audience, the easier it is to write a line for them.

Creating Change

Every time I suggest this, to throw out the "there can be only one" method of creating, I'm attacked. Told I'm supporting bad creative.

Nope. I'm making more focused creative.

I'm trying to make creative that's relevant, personalized, and more effective than what we've done before.

I don't want to put out 100 horrible headlines to the world. I want to put out great headlines, that say the right thing to the right person. And if you want to approach it by writing 100 to get to every one of those we need, then good luck to you. But my guess is that's not realistic.

If we shift how we create, both our focus and our egos, then we could make something everyone loves. Each in their own way.

Thanks for reading!

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