Ad-libs: 9 ways to use numbers in headlines

Ad-libs: 9 ways to use numbers in headlines

NumbersBy John Foust
Raleigh, NC

Whether on a printed page, monitor or mobile device, the headline is the most important part of an ad. It tells the reader what the ad is about. With the blink of an eye, he or she decides whether it’s worth the effort to keep reading.

Numbers can help you create compelling headlines, as long as they are specific and relevant. Here are a few examples. Note that these numbers as expressed as digits, not words:

  1. “Only 6 townhomes left.” Using a specific number, rather than saying “they’re going fast,” communicates proof of scarcity. As sales increase, the countdown should continue. You can also use this technique to indicate time: “Only 8 days left.”
  1. “Save $1,000 on new carpet.” A specific dollar amount is easier to visualize than “a lot.” It’s worth mentioning that this headline works better with a verb (“save”) than with a passive phrase like, “$1,000 discount on new carpet.”
  1. “Save 25 percent on Merino wool sweaters.” This is a variation of the dollar tactic in the carpet headline. The difference is that a percentage indicates proportion. Of course, the body copy should indicate the dollar amounts of the 25 percent.
  1. “According to XYZ Survey, we rank number 1 in parts availability.” If this kind of headline isn’t supported by evidence, it won’t have an ounce of credibility.

I remember a car dealer who ran ads claiming to be “number one.” Not surprisingly, other dealers countered with claims that they were number one. The problem was that it was a blanket statement, with no facts to back it up.

  1. “4 out of 5 dentists recommend…” This line was made famous by a brand of sugar-free chewing gum. Before you use this kind of testimonial evidence, make sure you are quoting a legitimate survey.
  1. “1,500 widgets sold so far this year.” Years ago, this tactic was used by McDonald’s. Right there on the golden arches sign was the message “Over 240 billion sold.” It was a big joke to say you were so hungry that you were going to make the number change.

Other examples of quantity-headlines include, “We’ve sold 26 homes in the past 3 months;” “Last year, we helped 3,425 students pass their college entrance exams;” and “Since we opened our doors, we’ve paved over 1,000 miles of driveways.”

  1. “5 ways to cut your electric bill.” This headline promises important information about a specific problem. It would certainly get the attention of anyone wanting to reduce energy costs.
  1. “In your area, there is a house break-in every 32 minutes.” Here’s an example of a headline that creates a sense of urgency. Again, make sure the advertiser – in this case a home security company – uses verifiable figures.
  1. “28 years of dry cleaning experience.” This headline equates years with expertise. Another way to sell experience is to add the number of working years of the people who work there: “Our staff has 191 years of experience.”


John Foust has conducted training programs for thousands of newspaper advertising professionals. Many ad departments are using his training videos to save time and get quick results from in-house training. E-mail for information:

(c) Copyright 2015 by John Foust. All rights reserved.