Guest Post by Shakirah Dawud
“Why you stink.”
These headlines always seem to magically know more about that thing we’ve always known deep down about ourselves, no matter how well we’ve resigned ourselves to it, shut out the world’s criticism of it, or – er – deodorized it.
Hope springs eternal. We all know we’re not perfect… even at the things everyone we meet seems to think we’ve perfected. Although we’re not all self-improvement-tape addicts, we all hope to improve our existence.
“You Stink” headlines promise we’ll come away improved.
Playing on insecurities is something marketing must do to survive. Initiating engagement with fear – this one that our readers will miss out on something that could change their lives for the better – has become practically a reflex among practicing copywriters.
But (thankfully) fear does not spring eternal.
Our brains require a higher and higher threshold to get the same reaction each time we encounter the same fear-inducing stimulus. So the power of these headlines diminishes each time we see them.
Since they work so well, though, we’d all better use them – but wisely. A couple of examples:
“Are you making these four mistakes in your business relationships?”
We’re in business relationships and want them to start, middle, and end well. We’ve just left one behind and are sure the Other Party has made these mistakes… just as sure as they are that we did.
We’re on the lookout for a new one and we want to avoid the mistakes This Time. We want to know; and we’re concerned about what could happen if we don’t find out.
This kind of fear is much more indirect, in the form of concern.
“The little-known method to keep your credit score high.”
It’s obviously a secret, and it could easily affect us. Here, curiosity initiates the click rather than fear or concern. Even if our scores are high enough, we want to make sure they stay that way.
But with power comes great responsibility. So no matter how magnetic your headline is, the content that follows must worth your reader’s time.
In the second example, for instance, knowing who your readers are and what concerns them could make the same content a golden ticket or a scrap of toilet paper, read by either the right or the wrong audience.
What do they already know? What do they wish they knew? What are they not quite ready for yet?
How do you react to “You Stink” headlines? How have you used them?
Photo credit: Jodi C., courtesy Flickr, CC 2.0.
Shakirah Dawud is the writer and editor behind Deliberate Ink. Based in Maryland with roots in New York, she’s been crafting effective marketing copy as a writer and polishing many forms of prose as an editor since 2002. Clients in many fun sizes, industries, and locations reach her through the Web.
So… @rachaelseda put your post to work immediately when sharing it to our FB page… and it totally grabbed attention! Great post, Shakirah!
@rickcaffeinated Heh, exactly! ;) @geoffliving
@annereuss Thanks so much for sharing @ShakirahDawud post!
Thanks to this article, I’ve just changed the title of an upcoming post from “The Difference between x and y cookers” to “Do you know how x and y cookers differ?”
MUCH better!! Now that post will be read both by those who don’t know the difference and those who think they might know but now will click on it to be sure.
Also, I loaded the “Are you making these # cooker mistakes?” for a future article.
I would love more examples of “you stink” headlines, because they seem very actionable.
@hip pressure cooking “You stink” is my “technical” term for these kinds of headlines, lol. For your first example, perhaps “X and Y cookers: the differences can make you a better cook” would add even stronger elements of curiosity because it hits the spot where most of your readers are most vulnerable: they want good tools to help them cook, but they want to know how to make better food even more.
I’m glad you found the tips useful!
@ShakirahDawud I love your technical term… it got me to click.
Thanks for the extra example. I’ll find a way to work the psychology behind it into another headline.
@razoo @geoffliving Thanks so much for sharing @ShakirahDawud post!
@shonali Really enjoying your blog of late. Cheers.
@geoffliving Thank you!
@voxoptima @skypulsemedia Thanks for the shares and #FF to you both.
@ShakirahDawud @skypulsemedia Many thx!
I’ve seen this, too. Negativity and fear based headlines do seem to work better. It’s dirty laundry as Don Henley used to say!
@geoffliving They really do work better, at first. But say you’re researching the pros and cons of a certain vehicle. The search results and magazines are all titled in ways that would drive us crazy if we reacted the same way every single time we saw something like, “The Top 10 Reasons You Should NOT buy a Cheepo XL-3.” We don’t, though, and that’s good because then we can better assess the information we’re being given, from whom.
I subscribe to a ton of trade pub news emails. And I think about which subject lines got me to open and click. This makes me think even more about that.
@HowieSPM Thinking is good! I have a lot of fun analyzing the headlines and subject lines that catch my attention, too–and struggling against the impulse to click on a compellingly titled email from a sender I know from past experience is seldom worth it.
Great post, Shakirah! Looking at marketing tactics takes on a whole new level of meaning (and usually enjoyment) once you start seeing these. The biggest culprit is the beauty industry. Every single blog post, news article, and magazine page is based off of the premise that we have to improve our outward appearance in order to be accepted and considered attractive. It’s depressing at times, but makes it much easier to see through some of the “crap” marketing for “miracle” products!
@annedreshfield Oh, how right you are, Anne! It’s so hilarious to me, those ads in the sidebar that make a 75-year-old look like a 30-year-old again. They force those of us who are aging to want in, but really–come on, now, what would a 75-year-old do with a 30-year-old face?
I really enjoyed reading this, thanks for sharing. They are definitely headlines that make you think twice! I look forward to reading more from you.
Jamie@<a href=”http://www.allpointspr.com”>Chicago PR Firm</a>
I once created a donor-recruiting PSA for the Blood Bank of Hawaii (we had hit a slight slump in donors) that basically told people “if YOU don’t donate, someone will die…do you want that on YOUR conscience”? A little TOO “you stink”-y for our audiences, so my baby, as much as I totally LOVED it, never saw the light of day.
The one danger in the “You Stink” approach is that of turning off potential (or current) customers who inherently do not want to hear about their “weakness(es)” and might defect to someone else who bathes them in sweet nothings and provides reasonably comparable service/product/care.
Headlines/subject lines are the “Open Sesame” of communication…if you can get the reader/viewer/listener to stay with you for the next piece of the conversation, you have a chance. Content is and always will be “king (or “queen”).”
@KirkHazlett “The one danger in the “You Stink” approach is that of turning off potential (or current) customers who inherently do not want to hear about their “weakness(es)” and might defect to someone else who bathes them in sweet nothings and provides reasonably comparable service/product/care.”
Excellent add, thank you, Kirk. The exact reason we need to be careful with these; as powerful as they can be, we have to have a very deep understanding of the people we’re talking to as individuals, and how to word headlines like these to spark their interest without irritating an Achilles’ heel.
@ShakirahDawud @KirkHazlett And I think that’s something nonprofit communicators particularly have to be careful of… though back when I worked *in* a nonprofit, DRTV & direct mail tests apparently showed that the more heartrending the pieces/images, the wider the wallets opened.