Advertising headlines – the art of the one liner

Copywriting – the art of the one liner

Writing a great headline is an art. There aren’t many of us who can take a small handful of words and come up with something so compelling that people want to know more, buy one, write to their MP or repeat it in the pub that night.

So, let’s celebrate the master of the one-liner, the humble newspaper hack.

If you’re in need of some sizzling inspiration, what better place to look than the good old Soar Away Sun. Over the last 40 years, they’ve written some lines that have entered the English language and here are some absolute corkers:

1982, British troops sank the General Belgrano and The Sun launched a ballistic one-word, jingoistic war cry: ‘GOTCHA’.

1986, and how could you not read on from this little teaser: ‘FREDDIE STARR ATE MY HAMSTER’.

Wind the clock forward to the 21st century and they’re still coming out with some real beauties:

2005, Prince Harry is photographed on his way to a fancy dress party: ‘HARRY THE NAZI’.

2009, perhaps a little gratuitous even for The Sun, as everyone’s favourite celebrity stoner has a bit of a prang: ‘GEORGE MICHAEL SHUNTS TRUCKER IN REAR’.

But it’s not just the journos at our number one tabloid that can turn out a nifty line or two. Spotted on high streets around the UK:

Copywriting headlines

So next time you’re struggling to edit a 15 word headline, you could do worse than buy a copy of your local rag.

For more on copywriting:

Choosing a freelance copywriter
Copy Editing – get to the point
Freelance copywriter – passing the copy test

Jonathan Wilcock (that’s me) is a freelance Copywriter, Art Director and Creative Director.
You can drop me a line here, or email jonathan@sowhatif.co.uk

Copywriting Hatchet – how to edit copy

Copy editing – get to the point

Whether it’s a huge annual report or a short internal memo, there’s an art to writing sharp, succinct copy that people will actually read. Ironically, this is quite a long post, but hopefully you’ll find it valuable.

For sake of argument, we’re writing 100 words or so for the home page of a brand new website for Smythe & Smythe, a fictitious insurance company. Having said that, whatever you’re writing, the following processes should help:

1. Stop staring at a blank screen
Get something down, even if it’s just bullet points in no particular order. Something to form the basis of the content.
2. Know your tone of voice
This is critical. In this instance, let’s say the client wants to come across as confident and professional.
3. Who are you talking to?
Let’s presume that Smythe & Smythe want to appeal to Financial Directors and other decision makers of large multinationals.
4. What do you want to achieve?
In this case, we’re welcoming someone to a new website and quickly getting across the essence of who Smythe & Smythe are and what they’re about.
5. Structure
Once we have an opening gambit and pay-off/call to action in mind, we can start to construct some logic to the story. For sake of argument, we will have an intro that welcomes people to the website and an outtro that encourages them to get in touch. This may well change as things develop, but as with throwing down some bullet points, at least we have a starting point.
6. Save everything
Every draft could be ‘the one’, so don’t save over them. Copy and paste and then keep tweaking to your heart’s content.

Draft 1 – it may be over-long, but it’s got pretty much everything we need:

Smythe and Smythe – Your future in safe hands
Welcome to the new Smythe and Smythe website.
With over 1200 employees in 14 European countries, we are Europe’s biggest commercial insurer.
Smythe and Smythe is the number 1 commercial insurer in Europe, and with 125 years of commercial insurance experience, working with the likes of Fred Bloggs, Joe Public, A N Other and Thingumybob, you really couldn’t be in safer hands.
Since our original CEO chairman, Sir Cecil Smythe, started the company in 1886, we have been guided by two core principles – integrity and excellence. You will find that we constantly strive to meet or exceed our commitments to our clients – no wonder we were voted number 1 for value and customer service at the Euro–Insure awards 2005, 2006, 2008, 2011 and 2017.
In our new site you will find the Smythe and Smythe blog, downloadable resources and an invaluable online quote tool.
Please don’t hesitate to contact us if there is anything you would like to discuss regarding your commercial insurance needs.

So, now it’s time to get the hatchet out.

Draft 2

Smythe and Smythe – Your future in safe hands
Welcome to the new Smythe and Smythe website.
Smythe and Smythe employs over 1200 insurance specialists and provides commercial cover and consultancy for some of the biggest organisations in Europe.
Since our incorporation in 1886, we have been guided by two core principles – integrity and excellence. No wonder we were voted number 1 for value and customer service at the Euro–Insure awards 2017.
Please don’t hesitate to contact us if there is anything you would like to discuss regarding your commercial insurance needs.

Now’s the time to be honest with ourselves. Is there anything crucial missing? Does it flow? Is it in the right order? If the answer to all of these questions is ‘Yes’, it’s time to look at tone of voice.  Smythe and Smythe is the biggest in Europe and our tone of voice is ‘confident and professional’, so maybe, we can afford to be a bit ballsier…

Draft 3

Smythe and Smythe – Your future in safe hands
For 125 years, Smythe and Smythe has been guided by two core principals – integrity and excellence. That’s why we’re the largest commercial insurer in Europe.
And this year, we picked up our 7th annual Euro–Insure award as ‘number 1 for value and customer service’.
Want to know more? Please have a look around our website or get in touch.

If you’ve got to this point and you’re still not sure, read it out loud. Does it sound right for your brand? Another great tip is to forget about it and give it the ‘overnight test’. But, if deadlines are looming, ask colleagues what they think. If you’re the only one who likes it, don’t be afraid to tear it up and start again.

So, in summary:
– Get all the salient points down
– Be ruthless with your editing
– Save every version; and finally…
– Don’t forget your tone of voice – it could be the one thing that makes your brand truly unique.

Oh, and definitely don’t rely on spell check!

Jonathan Wilcock (that’s me) is a freelance Copywriter, Art Director and Creative Director.
You can drop me a line here, or email jonathan@sowhatif.co.uk