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  • Writer's pictureSarah Hunt

One over-used headline to avoid this spring

And 3 ways to write scroll-stopping copy – even when deadlines get tight



You receive an email newsletter promoting new-season shoes. The headline reads: ‘Step into spring’.


Looking at this headline only, can you pinpoint anything about the collection? The brand personality? Who the target customer is? Does it make you want to read on? Does it make you want to buy?


The answers to these questions are probably no, no, no, no and no.


That’s because it’s a headline we’ve all seen so many times it’s become a cliché. It’s a CTA without energy. Even the alliteration can’t save it. It’s just a placeholder - it’s filling the space without actually doing anything.


Maybe the email subject was changed at the last minute. Maybe a million other projects were going on. Maybe no one could agree on the other (better) headline that was suggested. Maybe it was the end of the day and everyone had run out of copy mojo. Maybe they only had 60 seconds to drop something in over the image. We’ve all been there.


So, what can you do when you’ve got a minute to think of a headline that actually has something to say?



Steal from the Boy Scouts


Well, their motto anyway. “Be prepared”. Writing engaging lines that hook your readers when deadlines are tight and the pressure is on, is part of the day-to-day life of a copywriter. It’s going to happen, so it’s best to get ahead of it and be ready for the inevitable.


And there are a few ways you can do that…



1. Gather inspiration


Whether it’s a Pinterest board, Instagram pictures and videos, or pages from magazines, creating a scrapbook of brilliant copy examples is a great way to spark inspiration at the moment when you most need it.


But this isn’t about copying what’s come before. It’s about analysing why these examples caught your eye, why they made you want to read on, or why they made the brand sound so intriguing.


Maybe they reference a zeitgeisty event, subvert well-known song lyrics, or play with a well-known phrase in a new way. Whatever the reason, keep these examples on hand and be ready to raid the biscuit tin when the situation demands.


Here are a few examples that made my Pinterest boards:


Double-tap-worthy styles (Madewell)

Make an understatement (Hobbs)

Here’s to the coats too good for the cloakroom (ASOS)



2. Get technical


Here's a quick test. Which copy line sounds better?


a. Our new iced tea is refreshing and packed with flavour.

b. Our new iced tea is refreshing, all-natural and packed with flavour.


Hopefully, you've said 'b' because this phrase makes the most of the hidden power of the number three. Something magical happens when we triple phrases, clauses or sentences. One theory suggests this is because we're better able to remember things when they're presented in threes. Others suggest that this structure (official name: tricolon) allows us to build to a crescendo, create patterns, or create and then subvert patterns.


Tricolons are just one rhetorical device you can draw on when you need to find a new or unexpected way to say something. If the words 'rhetorical device' sound a bit dry, outdated and boring (there's another tricolon), let's rebrand them as 'tricks of the trade'. And you're almost certainly already using them already.


Ever written something like...


Sandals as hot as a heatwave (that's a simile - comparing one thing figuratively to another)

Hello new shoes, I think we'd look great together (that's apostrophe - addressing an inanimate object)

This season demands look-at-me neutrals (that's an oxymoron - bringing together two opposites)


Metaphors, sarcasm, rhetorical questions, alliteration and puns also count. So grab a notebook or start a Google doc and drop in memorable examples when you come across them. Then you've got a readymade list of thought-starters for when the clock is ticking.


For a full list of rhetorical devices, try The Elements of Eloquence by Mark Forsyth - he's got a whole chapter on tricolons. Alternatively, chapter 9 of Copywriting Made Simple by Tom Albrighton contains a wealth of ways to get creative. And chapter 8 of Read Me, Ten Lessons for Writing Great Copy by Roger Horberry and Gyles Lingwood covers figures of speech that can bring your writing to life.


Need a list now? You'll find 41 top rhetorical devices here.



3. Dig out your brand tone of voice doc


Don’t let it gather dust on your desk. Find your brand tone of voice doc and take a look at the voice overview and any examples that are included.


Maybe it says you’re writing for an inquisitive brand, so you should ask a lot of questions. Or you’re an authority, so you always have an opinion. Or you’re always up for fun, so you love an exclamation mark. Every brand voice has idiosyncrasies and they're an ideal jumping-off point for headlines.


Here are three examples of copy lines that align with distinct brand tones of voice. Can you match the copy lines with the right brands? Answers at the bottom of the page.


"Bring the heat"

"Pour on the colour. Pile on the prints. Add vintage. Bug out."

"How we dress now"


Net-a-Porter

Nasty Gal

Nike


Keeping your brand voice in mind will help you write headlines that work hard to position your brand, build the brand personality across every customer touchpoint, and unlock a few untapped expressions.



It's easy as 1, 2, 3:


Step 1. Get prepped - create scrapbooks, make notes, keep lists, dig out your brand docs. Find inspiration everywhere.


Step 2. Keep your prep in mind. Don’t leave your work in a drawer and forget about it.


Step 3. Draw on the work you’ve done when time is tight and you need to sprinkle a little copywriting magic.



Final note:


I asked AI to write a headline about spring shoes. 

What did it come up with? 

‘Step into spring’.





Answers:


Bring the heat - Nike

Pour on the colour. Pile on the prints. Add vintage. Bug out. - Nasty Gal

How we dress now - Net-a-Porter

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