Frances Yllana :: Senior Lecturer


Go back to ART 3354

Headlines + Taglines.


What is a headline?

In advertising — whether it be billboard, magazine, newspaper, bus, bus benches, posters, car wrap, etc — the headline is the first, and sometimes only, impression you can make on your audience.


Without a good headline, the rest of your ad — the supporting copy, the website address or phone number, or even the client's name — may as well not even be there. With a regular advertisement's competition — other ads in the same magazine, other billboards, a screaming baby sitting next to you on the bus — a headline must not only grab your audience's attention, it must also communicate the full message to the audience and pull them into the rest of the advertisement.


What type of headlines are there? How do they work?

A headline is a promise. They promise the audience a benefit - of reading more, going to the website, of trying out the product or service. The following defines the different types of headlines you'll find:




Direct headlines are straightforward. They don't try to be clever. They simply state a benefit. For example:

"30% off all purchases this weekend."



Indirect headlines are used to raise the audience's curiosity. They pull the audience in, and the body copy fills in the rest of the information. Indirect headlines use puns, double-meanings, plays on words,figures of speech, metaphors and symbolism. For example, in Greyhound's attempt to get a younger audience to ride the bus - their advertising firm formulated their messaging (think creative brief) to "transportation gets you to a location on a map, but travel is emotional, life-altering. empowering and a uniquely American rite of passage. " So one of their headlines, in turn, reads:


"Don't Let the Mark You Leave on the World Be A Dent in the Couch."

grey ad

See this campaign featured in Commarts.


But let's say, the client is a State Park, and the messaging of the creative brief is,"State parks are a way for a family to spend quality time together, inexpensively."

Then the headline might be:

"Spend More Time, Not Money."



News headlines are pretty simple — and work when the subject of the ad is — news. For example, announcements about new products, new and improved versions, etc. For example, in's news feed:

"Coming Attractions: American Violet"




The How to Headline is very common. The motivation is very simple — the audience is promised that after they read the rest of the content — they'll experience an immediate benefit. This is used quite a lot in online headline writing - specifically for blogs. For example:

"How to Write Better Headlines."


But let's go back to the State Park client — a how to headline for that campaign might be:

"How to Have a Memorable Famliy Vacation For Less"




Question headlines might sound simple, but they're not. The questions must be something the audience actually wants answered. And the body copy, must answer it just enough to satisfy the audience, but also keep them interested enough to follow through (follow through being, call the phone number, visit the website, buy the product). Using the State Park client again:

"Are You Tired of the Same Old Family Vacation?"


Such a headline needs an instant pay-off — like a subhead or very well written body copy. For example,

"Then come to Sea Mountain State Park where we have something for everyone in the family to enjoy — from camping and fishing to surfing and skiing."



Command headlines are bold and tell the audience just what they should do. These headlines need strong verbs as their first word. For example:

"Stop Wasting Money On High Priced Theme Parks."


"Go See Nature. Go Sea Mountain."




Reason Why headlines highlight the product/services benefits immediately. The copy will usually have a list of the features and benefits.These headlines can start on paper as "reasons why" but "ways to" and "tips for" are a natural evolution. For example:

"20 Reasons to Take a Sea Mountain Vacation"


"30 Tips to Save Money While Having Fun"



Testimonial headline presents outside — real —proof of the advertisement's promise. A testimonial comes from what another person has said about the product or service, and their actual words are used in the headline. The audience will know they are reading a "testimonial" by its quote marks, and the rest of the testifiers story is usually continued in the supporting copy. For example:

"It used to be hard to satisfy a sixteen-year old, a four year old AND a 40 year old — on the same vacation — until we came to Sea Mountain..."


So what's a tagline?

A tag line (or slogan) is a one or two line phrase associated with a product, campaign or business. They are a major part of a the brand, its presence and its message. Its how a company is known by its audience and also relays the promise and personality to its consumers.


Examples of taglines:

Nike : "Just Do It"

Volvo : "Volvo. For Life."

Ford : "Have You Driven A Ford Lately"?

Apple : "Think Different."

M&M's: "Melts in your mouth, not in your hands."
Milk: "Milk. It does a body good."


The difference between headlines and taglines — in writing — is not much. You often use the same techinique in writing them. Brainstorming. Focusing on the message being sent, etc.


However, headlines are used within individual ads used in a campaign that might last 6 months to a year, where there are different headlines being used. A tagline, however, for that same campaign, finishes each individual ad within it. It's usually used as the end of the messaging, locked in with the logo, and can last longer than the original campaign it was created for.


Read Some of Advertising's "Best" Taglines/Slogans

Take a look at the slogans and how long they've lasted for each brand.



How To Write The Headlines + Taglines:


Absorb everything in your creative brief. Do as much research about your particular product/service — from biographies of founders to audience reviews on website forums. Let it all marinate in your head, and start talking to your friends and family about it. Try to convince them that your product/service is a good/better idea than its competition. Sometimes, you'll find that you're speaking the beginning of a good campaign. You'll find some of your sentences would be good headlines, or better yet, you've defined the whole product/service with the beginning of a memorable tagline.



Look at the billboards as you're driving. These billboard ads have just a few seconds to get your attention and sell your their product or service. The copy is usually going to be a very good headline / tagline with a picture of the product/service/benefit/benifactor. Note these, because 60% of them are great examples of effective taglines.


Then, research magazine and newspaper ads, listen to radio commercials and watch those on TV. What caught your attention, and what do you remember most about your favorite ones? The last things you remember are probably a good headline and/or tagline.



Make a list of everything that relates to your client. Or write a paragraph — one that you might recite to a family member or friend to convince them that your product/service is better than its competition.



From that list/paragraph, underline the top 25 or 30 things that are important and worth mentioning. Narrow down that to a list of 8 or 10 of the most important things to be said about your client. These are the core of your argument. Of these, highlight the top 3 or 4 selling points.



Based on your core -brainstorm headlines for each selling point. Come up with headlines that fit within the same family.


For example, if your main benefits for your State Park client are cost, proximity and a great outdoor experience, then the following headlines would fit within the same family:

"More green. For your wallet."

"More green. Less gas."

"More green. More fun."


Your tagline might stem from your family of headlines or it might be a separate point all together, that still states the benefits as a whole. But the tagline must state the product/services' umbrella promise and not a specific benefit. For example, a tagline for the state park might be:

"Greener Means Better When It Comes To Vacation"


Try to keep your brainstorming short, and speak at a level that most people can understand. Try to be clever, but not too clever.


Also - give yourself a high number of headlines to reach per benefit, and give yourself a high number of taglines to write to. Don't stop brainstorming when you think you've reached the right one, because the best might come five taglines down the road.


When you're done — narrow them down to the 5 best headline families (which you then turn into visual campaigns) and the 10 best taglines. Present these to your client (or teacher) for further input/to get narrowed down more.