On The Enjoyment Of Headlines

I enjoy headlines more than most. I appreciate the art of the headline, the (sometimes) drama, and the (often) silliness that provides a break in the day. A good headline should be informative, quickly, whether introducing the news or commercial content -- of which advertising is one form.

This was a point made to me in a dramatic way by a former boss, the legendary Peter Rabar. I was working on the Columbia House account at the time. We were direct marketers of music and video, and the headline that was making us millions of dollars in revenue was "11 for a penny."

Being disciplined, we were constantly testing alternatives. Nothing worked better. (Remember this was direct, and we knew precisely what worked.)

And being very young and convinced that there had to be something more "creative" and therefore more effective, I was constantly suggesting alternatives.

Peter then made a suggestion to me. He said he thought I should test my alternatives by displaying them on a sandwich board while walking up and down 53 Street and Madison Avenue, at 5 p.m., observing people's reactions.



Interesting suggestion, I thought. His methodology was creative, but his intent was not immediately obvious. I then discovered that there was a busy subway on the corner of 53rd and Madison and, at 5 p.m., the "respondents" did not have a lot of time for my message. Sort of like the real world.

As I thought about what the outcome might be, Peter's goal became very clear. A professor can teach the concept of a value proposition, and even the art of expression. But it might take the reality of a walk on Madison Ave, with a sandwich board, during rush hour, to understand that there was only one headline that was going to beat "11 for a penny." It was "12 for a penny." Lesson learned.

Today I am fascinated and often entertained by the financial markets, and the flood of opinion that passes for information about where we're headed. And I'm constantly reminded of the famous line from the retiring Hollywood executive who said, "Nobody knows anything."

Let me share some of my favorite headlines from the past week in what passes for financial information:

"Optimism Jumps But Pessimism Remains High"

"Economic Outlook Tough And Realistically Optimistic"

And the one crossing into politics, "Perry Could Win, Or Not"

You can't make this stuff up.

I was walking yesterday on 42 Street in New York. I passed a man sitting on the sidewalk with a sign that read "Tips." He wasn't playing a guitar or singing or reading poetry. He was just asking for, and receiving, tips.

A real direct marketer.

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