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david ogilvy the importance of the headline in media short attention span customer David Ogilvy, the real-life Don Draper of Madison Avenue in the 1960s, is perhaps the most quoted, and misquoted, person in the history of marketing. One of his most popular quotes was about headlines: “On the average, five times as many people read the headline (of a print ad) as read the body copy. When you have written your headline, you have spent eighty cents out of your dollar.”

That quotation is sometimes used by digital marketers as guidance for how to reach today’s short-attention-span customer. Say everything you need to say in the subject line, they advise. “If you can’t say something in 140 characters, then don’t say it,” we’re told.

Unfortunately, in the cited quotation, Ogilivy didn’t mean you have to say everything you need to say in a headline.

How do we know he didn’t mean that? Because the quote is buried deep inside an advertisement containing 1,909 words of copy. You read that correctly: 1,909 words!

Moreover, Ogilvy includes the following advice a few paragraphs later: ”People read long copy…. readership falls off rapidly up to 50 words, but drops very little between 50 and 500 words: The more you tell, the more you sell.”

For Ogilvy, advertising wasn’t merely about getting people to read your headline. It wasn’t even about getting people to read body copy. It was about one thing: selling.

Use short copy to sell. Use long copy to sell. Just make sure your advertising sells. Everything one does as a marketer is in service to the sell.

How to create customer media that sells

We agree: today’s customer has a short attention span and is bombarded with marketing messages continuously. However, it is important to remember that the goal of the media and content you create to reach new customers and extend relationsips with current ones is not, ultimately, about generating clicks or any other metrics. The goal is to sell.

Content of any length or format that helps your customers learn how to better use your products or services to do their jobs more effectively, or enjoy their passions more deeply, adds value to your products. It is what turns marketing into results.

As Ogilvy would write later about the advertising he created to help grow his own company into one of the world’s largest marketing networks, “My ads not only promised useful information, they provided it.”

The more you tell, the more you sell. But sometimes, you can also sell with a tweet.

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