You’ll probably forget this headline because I didn’t take the time to make it as short as it could have been.

One of the biggest “I’M JUST A STUDENT” banners you can wave is having headlines that are way too long. If you’re a copywriter, you need to learn to edit without losing meaning or interest. If you’re an art director, you need to do the same. The words may not technically be your responsibility, but it’s still your ad. And a too-long headline can bring it down.
Let’s say you’re doing ads for a paint store that delivers the paint right to your home once you’ve selected a color on-line. You could start with a headline like this:
You can paint a whole lot more when you don’t have the paint department getting in your way.
Okay. I get it. Kind of interesting. But can you trim it?
You can paint a lot more when the paint department’s not in your way.
Much shorter. But are the words “a lot” really necessary?
You can paint more when the paint department’s not in your way.
Do you have to use the words “You can” at the beginning?
Paint more when the paint department’s not in your way.
Let’s get our Hemmingway on.
Paint more without the paint department in your way.
Paint more without the paint department.
And how about this?
Paint without a paint department.
I’m not saying that’s the absolute best one. But it’s a little more interesting than the original. And certainly more succinct. You could argue that there’s more character, and more of a voice in some of the longer lines. Maybe. Sometimes longer lines will give you the voice you need. But I think there’s plenty of character in the shortest line.
More often than not, headlines should be short. And writers and art directors need to be able to take long thoughts and edit them down to something someone might read and remember, even if they weren’t paying attention to begin with.

5 thoughts on “You’ll probably forget this headline because I didn’t take the time to make it as short as it could have been.

  1. This doesn't relate entirely to this post, but what is your opinion on copywriters knowing the Adobe programs coming out of portfolio school? Is it a must or a bonus?

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  2. Anon, it's definitely not a must. And really not a bonus. I think it's a shoulder-shrugger. As a writer, it doesn't affect your ability to write copy or come up with ideas. That's what your book is for. There have been plenty of times I wished I was more proficient in Photoshop and After Effects. But no one looking at my book would ever care. Your book alone matters.

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  3. I'm not necessarily sure I agree I with you. If you look at some of the greatest headlines over the past few years, there are some absolutely beautiful long headlines.

    Examples:

    The Economist ads – solely headlines. Usually longer.
    Timberland – Tim Delaney's headlines are incredible and more often than not considered 'long'
    Nike – Although a little older, Janet Champ often uses her headlines to paint a story.
    Lurpak – Great campaign this year using long headlines over an image.

    Whilst I get that these examples use headlines which have been crafted from a potentially much longer line, I think that they stand out because so much advertising is about simplicity these days.

    Sometimes a long headlines cuts through the clutter of quick visuals and supposedly 'witty' lines.

    Brilliant blog by the way.

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  4. Anon,

    Thanks for the comment. You're obviously a huge fan of British advertising, and no one writes copy like the Brits. I agree that your examples are all some of the “greatest.” But as much as I'm a fan of Delaney and Champ, they're not exactly examples from “the past few years.” That said, yes, longer lines can sometimes cut through clutter.

    My point isn't that short headlines are better, but rather that students (all of us, really) need to learn to edit.

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  5. Economist headlines off the top of my head:

    Think someone under the table. (5 wds)

    Lose the ability to slip out of meetings unnoticed. (9 wds)

    Having potential is great, if you're 12. (6 and a number)

    Ever go blank at the crucial…thingy? (7)

    “Can I phone an econonist reader please Chris? (8)

    john deignan

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