direct mail marketing by printing company

As you remember from the previous blog post, the headline (or teaser copy) is responsible for about 73% of your direct mail advertising results. That being the case, I thought it would be appropriate to dig in a little deeper, and get some further clarification on writing eye-ball grabbing headlines for your next direct mail campaign.

Firstly, we learned that a very effective headline strategy was to hit the prospect between the eyes with a killer benefit, or dramatize the biggest problem that your product or service alleviates. And indeed, in most markets this is a great strategy and more than enough to do the trick.

But what about those more sophisticated, more aware, and more competitive markets? What about those over-marketed to segments that are filled with other adept marketers who have already educated your prospects on their problems? Markets that are already keenly aware of all the similar products your competitors have to offer?

Well, as we’re going to find out… those markets can be a lot trickier.

In his classic book, Breakthrough Advertising, legendary direct mail copywriter Eugene Schwartz wrote that the level of awareness of the market plays a huge role in dictating the type of headline you use. For example, in the ultra-competitive financial investment market, a headline such as: “How to Make Money with Gold Stocks!” wouldn’t make it out of the gate alive. People in that market have heard those claims 1,000 times and have grown stubbornly immune to them.

So, what works best in these markets?

Going for “shock value”, or making a controversial statement about a current event in the market place can be a good way to go.

For example…

Master copywriter Clayton Makepeace made a huge splash in the financial market for Weiss Research’s “Safe Money Report”, with the controversial headline “Shameless Two-Faced S.O.B’s!”

The sub headline of this direct mail marketing package went on to implicate the CEO’s and top executives at many major companies who had recently dumped huge shares of stock in their companies, while trying to persuade investors to hold on to their shares. This headline stopped investors in their tracks like a deer in headlights for a number of reasons.

Perhaps most notably because of the highly emotional appeal and even slightly vulgar tone that is rarely seen in mainstream advertising. There is absolutely no mention of a direct benefit, which is also rare in and of itself. The intro immediately informs the unsuspecting investor that he’s being duped. That he’s being fooled into buying shares of a company that its own officers are dropping like flies. This immediately incites an emotional riot in the reader, and compels him to read more. Even if he doesn’t necessarily believe it, the sheer brazenness of the headline makes him at least curious enough to read on.

Another example would be the world’s greatest direct mail copywriter, Gary Bencivenga’s “Lies, Lies, LIES!” headline he used for Mark Skousen’s popular investment newsletter “Forecasts & Strategies”. In this case, the headline brought the reader’s attention to the sub headline and intro copy: “Why we investors are fed up with being lied to!” The intro goes on to tell the investor how Wall Street brokers and mainstream financial experts have been swindling them into buying stocks based on their commissions and personal ambitions. Not based on what’s in the investor’s best interest… and how they’ve suffered massive losses at their hands due to their shady practices.

This direct mail package also incited an emotional riot among its readers, and ended up being a huge control for the newsletter.

So… if you’re advertising via direct mail in a hyper-competitive market, try going against type and creating “Shock value” to open the sale. It’s a very effective method to stop readers in their tracks and get them to read the next line. Every headline’s primary task!


Guest contributor, Wayne Brown, is a Direct Response Marketing Consultant and Direct Mail Copywriter. To learn more about him you can go to his website:



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