&Quot;Headlines Make Ads Work&Quot; (Caples 1979): New Evidence Highlights of the Special Topic Session:


Jacqueline Hitchon (1991) ,"&Quot;Headlines Make Ads Work&Quot; (Caples 1979): New Evidence Highlights of the Special Topic Session:", in NA - Advances in Consumer Research Volume 18, eds. Rebecca H. Holman and Michael R. Solomon, Provo, UT : Association for Consumer Research, Pages: 752-754.

Advances in Consumer Research Volume 18, 1991      Pages 752-754



Jacqueline Hitchon, University of Wisconsin-Madison


"All messages have headlines. In TV, it's the start of the commercial. In radio, the first few words. In a letter the first paragraph. Even a telephone call has a headline. Come up with a good headline, and you are almost sure to have a good ad. But even the greatest writer can not save an ad with a poor headline." (Caples 1979)

In the context of print advertising, the headline has long been considered of great, if not greatest, importance by advertising practitioners and academicians alike (e.g., Caples 1975, Cohen 1988, Ogilvy 1964, Malickson and Nasan 1982, Rothschild 1987, Ziegler and Johnson 1981). And yet this key component has been the focus of relatively few investigations (Assael et al. 1967, Beltramini and Blasko 1986, Hanssens and Weitz 1980, Holbrook and Lehmann 1980, Myers and Haug 1967, Soley and Reid 1983). In most cases, and despite industry intuition to the contrary, research studies have failed to demonstrate a relationship between the headline and the overall successful performance of industrial and consumer print ads. This failure has been attributed to, among other factors, inadequate sampling of existing print ads and limitations in the dependent variables, usually standardized readership scores such as Starch scores (Beltramini and Blasko 1986, Mandell 1984).

It is noteworthy that disappointing research findings have no. resulted in disillusionment with the central role of the headline, but rather in general confusion on the subject (Business Marketing 1987). The industry remains convinced of the headline's importance on two counts. First, it is often the only part of the ad to be read. In fact, Ogilvy's (1963) much-quoted estimate that five times as many people read the headline as the body copy has recently been inflated to seven times (Communication Briefings 1984). Second, it is thought to be mainly because the headline invites further perusal of the ad that the entire copy does get read in some cases.

Given these concerns, this special session had a twofold purpose. Our first objective was to present fruitful tests of long-held and influential assumptions with regard to the types of headline that are most effective (Papers 1 and 2). Our second objective was to extend our understanding of the central role of the headline beyond the domain of print advertising. Since, to quote Caples, "all messages have headlines" advertisements must survive in an editorial and programming environment where non-advertising headlines influence their effectiveness. Paper 3 investigates the effects of TV news headlines on the reception of subsequent commercials.

A brief description of the content of each paper is given below.



"A Test of Ogilvy!s Conceptualization of

Advertising Effectiveness for Print Headlines"

This paper compared the effectiveness of three kinds of headlines: News, Benefit and Curiosity. News headlines announce that the product or service has something new to provide the consumer; Benefit headlines emphasize what the product will do for the consumer; Curiosity headlines attempt to intrigue the reader by means of ambiguity, to the extent that the headline may not even indicate the nature of the product or brand. Industry wisdom holds that Curiosity headlines are less effective than the other two major types Testing this general proposition was the objective of this research, and our findings relating to persuasion were reported in the session.

In brief, specific hypotheses were tested in a 3(Headline Type: News vs. Benefit vs. Curiosity) x 9(Product Type) split plot design. Pooling across products, a significant main effect of Headline Type was found with respect to attitude toward the brand and purchase intention. Contrary to industry wisdom, Curiosity headlines led to the most favorable attitudinal responses.



"Effects of Metaphorical vs. Literal Headlines on Advertising Persuasion"

Since a metaphor and its literal counterpart can never be equated exactly, their comparison is philosophically unacceptable in some fields of study. In advertising, however, the persuasive efficacy of a metaphorical product claim versus its more mundane (i.e., literal) alternative is an important practical issue in copyrighting. In the context of headlines, where metaphors are considered a special case of Curiosity headlines, the use of metaphor is widely disparaged. Moreover, an initial study designed to test the persuasive effects of metaphorical vs. literal processing in advertising copy foundered through the use of a "dead," i.e., cliched, metaphor (Jaffe 1986). Industry cynicism regarding the use of metaphorical language is surprising, however, given the substantial literature base in such diverse areas as psychology, anthropology, semeiotics and literary criticism that testifies to the persuasive function of metaphor. This paper forms part of a more extensive research

project that tests a theoretically-driven model of metaphorical processing. Novel metaphors (novel 'A is B' statements) all hypothesized to result in reconstruction of the cognitive representation of A, leading under certain conditions to more favorable evaluations of A. In this research. A is operationalized as the product or service being advertised. Since any single metaphor and its literal counterpart can never be equated in any exact sense, it was believed important to sum across a number of metaphors and their literal equivalents. Four products and two services, and a total of twelve metaphors and their literal counterparts were featured in two experiments.

The results provide support for the model. Both studies found more favorable brand attitudes as a result of novel metaphorical headlines, relative to equivalent literal headlines. In addition, equating a product with a negatively valenced entity in a metaphorical headline was found to result in more favorable attitudes, ruling out affect transfer as an explanation for the psychological process of equation in metaphor. Consistent with the model, attitude change was mediated by a reconstruction process that, in part, involved a significant increase in the perceived importance of the product characteristic shared by A and B.

As psychological theory and industry wisdom suggest, the effects of metaphor on attitude toward the advertisement itself were moderated by product tangibility and the salience of the product characteristic shared by A and B.



"How Viewers Use News Teaser Headlines to Process Commercial Information More Efficiently"

Commercials in most television programming come as a surprise "break." In the news, they are announced with what the broadcast industry calls teasers. The purpose of a teaser is to keep viewers from switching channels during the commercial breaks with phrases such as "A little girl in trouble and the town that rallied to help--after these messages." This study examined how news teasers influence the moment-to-moment processing of the commercials they precede.

These specific questions were addressed: (1) Do the presence of teasers facilitate attention to commercials and enhance the viewer's ability to remember the commercial message? (2) Are the effects of teasers on attention to and memory for commercials affected by whether the persuasive appeal is emotional or neutral? (3) Does the serial position of commercials within a pod interact with the presence of teasers?

The cognitive processing theories that most closely address these questions offer alternative predictions and explanations for the effect that teasers have on attention, visual memory and verbal memory. News teasers may have PROACTIVE INTERFERENCE EFFECTS on subsequent processing; the teasers may also stimulate greater overall COGNITIVE CAPACITY; and viewers may engage in SEGMENTATION of the ongoing flow of the news and commercial information such that the teasers signal the viewer that one viewing unit is complete and another is about to begin.

A three factor repeated measures experiment was designed to see which theoretical approach best explained teaser effects. The teaser factor had two conditions: presence of teasers vs. absence of teasers. The emotion factor also had two conditions: emotion vs. neutral appeal. The serial order of the commercials within a pod had three conditions: first, second and third. Three types of counterbalancing were used so that serial order effects observed would be due to the commercial position and not to an idiosyncratic characteristic of a commercial or a particular teaser-commercial combination. Teasers and commercials were embedded in simulated 20-minute newscasts that were created for each network--ABC, CBS and NBC. Two commercial pods were included in each newscast, one was preceded by teasers and one was not. Finally, attention was measured while subjects viewed the commercials. The secondary task reaction time method was used as an indicator of how intensely viewers paid attention to the commercials.

Viewers allocated more attention to commercials following teasers than to commercials that did not follow teasers, but there was no main effect for memory. The presence of teasers and emotional appeal interacted to affect both visual and verbal memory. Subject's visual memory scores were highest when they viewed emotional commercials that were not preceded by teasers. Teasers and serial order of commercials interacted to affect viewer attention. When commercials were not preceded by teasers, the first and last commercials in a pod elicited the most attention. In the presence of teasers, the middle commercial elicited the most attention. The pattern of results for visual memory and verbal memory was the same as that found for attention. In sum, none of three cognitive processing theories outlined in the paper explain all of the results, but the segmentation theory predictions were supported by the majority of the findings.

The three papers were critically appraised in detail by Martin Horn, Vice President and Associate Director of Marketing Decision Systems, a division of the Marketing Research Department at DDB-Needham in Chicago. Highlights of his discussion included a plea for more research on the effectiveness of print, advertising. He noted that the findings of the first two papers would delight many people working on the creative side of advertising. More difficult to persuade would be clients who are wary of curiosity headlines and of metaphorical language, in particular. Furthermore, Marty pointed out the value of research on context effects, as exemplified by Paper 3. Although advertisers do not currently have control over the type of news headline that their commercial follows, it is important to understand the relationship between the advertising environment and advertising effectiveness. Without such research, advertisers cannot negotiate with the media for greater control over placement in situations where control is feasible.


Assael, Henry, John H. Kofron, and Walter Burgi (1967), "Advertising Performance as a Function of Print Ad Characteristics," Journal of Advertising Research, 7, 2, 20-26.

Beltramini, Richard F. and Vincent J. Blasko (1986), "An Analysis of Award-Winning Advertising Headlines," Journal of Advertising Research, April/May, 47-52.

Business Marketing (1987), "Heads Screwed on Right," July, 97-100.

Caples, John (1975), "Fifty Things I Have Learned in Fifty Years in Advertising," Advertising Age, September 22, 47.

Caples, John (1979), "Caples on Copy," series in the Wall Street Journal.

Cohen, Dorothy (1988), Advertising, Scott, Foresman and Company.

Communication Briefings (1984), "Advertising Research Findings That May Surprise-Even Startle-You," August, Vol. 3, No. 10, 8a-8d.

Malickson, David L. and John W. Nason (1982), Advertising: How to Write the Kind that Works, Rev. ed. New York: Charles Scribner's Sons.

Mandell, Maurice I. (1984), Advertising, Englewood Cliffs: Prentice-Hall, Inc.

Myers, James H. and Arne F. Haug (1967), "Declarative vs. Interrogative Advertisement Headlines," Journal of Advertising Research, 7, 3, 4144.

Ogilvy, David (1963), Confessions of an Advertising Man, New York: Dell Publishing Co.

Rothschild, Michael (1987), Advertising: From Fundamentals to Strategies, D. C. Heath and Co.

Soley, Lawrence C. and Leonard N. Reid (1983), "Industrial Ad, Readerships as a Function of Headline Type," Journal of Advertising, 12, 2, 34-38.

Zeigler, Sherolyn K. and Douglas J. Johnson (1981), Creative Strategy and Tactics in Advertising, Columbus, Ohio: Grid Publishing Co.



Jacqueline Hitchon, University of Wisconsin-Madison


NA - Advances in Consumer Research Volume 18 | 1991

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