Ad-libs: Why ask questions in headlines?

Ad-libs: Why ask questions in headlines?

By John Foust

Raleigh, NC

Headlines are the entrance ramps to effective advertising. The better the headline, the higher the readership. The key word is “engagement.” How can you engage readers – with just a few words?

Consumers are naturally drawn to headlines which promise benefits or announce relevant news. That’s a logical place to start, as you’re writing headline choices. Along the way, why not experiment with some headlines that ask compelling questions?

Let’s take look at some examples, good and bad:

1. Looking for a good deal? (This headline is too vague to create interest. Good deal on what – prices, product selection, additional services or special warranties? If this advertiser truly offers “good deals,” he or she should provide specific details – even if it’s a simple as saying, “Looking for a good deal on golf clubs?)

2. “Why is the Johnson’s house twice as likely to be burglarized as yours?” (Now this is engaging. I’ve seen this kind of headline in home security advertising. It arouses curiosity and taps into the one of the strongest human motivators – fear of loss.)

3. “What’s wrong with this picture?” (This question has been around for a long time. Don’t use is as a “made you look” gimmick. To be effective, it should relate to the product which is being advertising – and provide the answer in the copy.

4. “Can you find five mistakes in this photo?” (This is a variation of the “what’s wrong” headline. As long as there is a direct link to the product, it can lead people to read the body copy, where they are certain to find an explanation of the nine mistakes. Don’t let them down in the copy. Deliver the goods.)

5. “How can you say ‘no’ to these fantastic bargains?” (It’s certainly easy to say ‘no” to this vapid headline, because it offers nothing of value to readers. “Fantastic” is an empty exaggeration in a meaningless question. If the bargains are so fantastic, why not think of a compelling way to say so?)

6. “Which house will sell faster?” (This classic curiosity headline is accompanied by two side-by-side photos. The houses look nearly identical. We have to read the copy to learn which one will sell faster – and why.)

7. “Why should you call XYZ Investment Firm?” (The answer is probably no better than the question.)

8. “Is your plumber ripping you off?” (If you’ve recently had some plumbing work done, this headline is a real grabber. Was the pricing fair? Or did you pay too much? You’ll have to read further to find out. And as you read, you’ll learn about a trustworthy plumbing company.)

9. “What guarantees did you get with your last oil change?” (This can generate interest. What about readers’ past purchases? Could they have made better decisions?)

10. “Which type of camera is best for you?” (If you’re in the market for a new camera, this ad promises to provide helpful information. And of course, whatever your choice, this advertiser probably has it in stock.)

Can questions help you create engaging headlines? Yes.

(c) Copyright 2017 by John Foust. All rights reserved.

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: