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April 23, 2010What makes a good strapline?

Straplines, headlines, taglines, slogans. Call them what you will, they’re what make the advertising world go round. It’s rare to find a good headline writer. That’s because headlines are hard to write. Anyone can fill a page with four hundred words, but how many people can catch an audience’s attention and sum up the product they’re selling in four or so words?

It’s more important to sound natural than to be clever.

F Scott Fitzgerald famously started out in advertising and came up with the slogan “we keep you clean in Muscatine” for an Iowa based laundry service. While he may have been the greatest writer of the 20th century, he wouldn’t have made it very far in the advertising world. Headlines like this are far too glib. Soon, they begin to grate. It’s possible to be “too” clever.

Good straplines find a great balance between being clever and being helpful, positive, and eye-catching.
They should stand out by being sharp, with carefully understated wordplay.

My favourite strapline out there at the moment belongs to the House of Fraser:

house of fraser

Yes, it’s a pun. But it’s a good one. A good pun doesn’t get tired the more you hear it, and every time I shop here, I look at that strapline and go “yup, that’s good.” It amuses, it explains, it entices but most of all — it’s positive.

Negativity never works.

A while ago I was asked to create a strapline for Skint.com, a website offering short term loans. Their existing headline, “it’s no fun with no money” simply didn’t work. Why? The use of the negative, twice. Why depress people by telling them something’s no fun — even if your site promises to fix that problem. Be positive. Look to the future, not the past.

Here’s the slogan I came up with for them.

skint-600x96

You may have noticed it already in my portfolio. But it’s one of my favourites, and I thought it deserved a little explanation.

It’s positive. It’s proactive. It feels natural.

Most importantly of all, it paraphrases the three most important words in copywriting: we can help.

A copywriter’s job is to introduce his client to their customers in such a way as the customers know that the client is able to help them. They want to feel able to come to the client and know their needs will be satisfied, their demands will be met.

That’s also why ‘Temptation on every level’ works well. It tantalizes, it promises… there’s an aura of mystique with the feeling of a promise soon to be fulfilled.

Still think any old strapline will do? Think again. If your budget is limited, you’re better off paying a copywriter a day’s work to come up with one simple sentence that sums up your business than producing five or six hundred words of sales text.

Good headline writers are hard to find. That’s because good headline writing is the hardest skill a copywriter will ever have to master.

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This entry was posted on Friday, April 23rd, 2010 at 3:46 pm and is filed under Advertising, Blog, Branding, Copywriting, Me and my business. 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.

3 comments

  1. dana says:

    wow, i never thought coming up with headlines would be such a pain.

  2. […] posted about what makes a good headline / strapline. Evidently, simplicity isn’t always the key to writing an original strapline, but that […]

  3. David Thickins says:

    That 3 word quote “We can help” says it all! In fact it’s a strapline about straplines.
    My product is a database application that helps Care Home Managers to manage information on a comprehensive and stable platform. I’m now working along the lines of “Care Home Information- We can help you get it organised!”

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