Usually, I advocate writing headlines that appeal to readers’ (and/or editors’) self-interest. But the two headlines below have nothing to do with my personal/business-related goals or interests. Nor do they address my concerns about regional, national or international issues.
“Man Accidentally Shoots Wife During Sex” from LiveScience.com
“I have firsthand experience with an undead parrot” from The Oatmeal (warning: graphic language)
Still, both of them hooked me the moment I saw them. And although I saw them years ago, I haven’t forgotten them, and I loved spreading the word about them. That’s because both headlines inspire the question “How did that happen?”
That’s the power of curiosity. Every reader approaches your message with a WIIFM (What’s In It For Me?) attitude, so if you can’t show how your product or service will make their lives better, try rousing and gratifying their curiosity in some other manner. Not only will they pay attention, but like me, they’re likely to tell others about your message because “How did that happen?” often is the sign of an awesome story.
Curiosity is why human interest headlines, like the ones cited above, work. Since people are social by nature, they tend to be curious when extraordinary things happen to or are done by others. A lackluster message might be spiced up by your looking for a human interest angle and using that angle in your headline or subject line.
Of course, you don’t have to go with a human interest angle to stir curiosity. Back in 2002, communication experts praised a Clorox press release with a sub-head that read: “Researchers Find Average Desk Harbors 400 Times More Bacteria Than Average Toilet Seat.” Doesn’t that incite your curiosity? Paste the text into a search engine and see how many article links appear.
This tactic can be difficult when writing subject lines due to the limited space. Communication professionals should generally write subject lines short enough for the entire text to be displayed, which means the text should fit within the email header’s 45-character space (it’s even smaller for handheld devices).
The Clorox sub-head definitely would not fit within a 45-character space. However, many copywriting experts say a subject line does not have to summarize the email’s entire message but rather can be a “teaser” that produces a little mystery.
For example, Roger Dooley’s Neuromarketing e-newsletter recently had the subject line “One Word That Turns Work into Play and more….” Doesn’t that make you curious? And it also promises a benefit; after all, who wouldn’t like their work to seem more like play?
Don’t try to incite curiosity if you’re writing something like an appointment release. But when feasible, experiment with headlines that make readers think “Why?” or “How did that happen?”