In searching for the “perfect headline” for an ad, I was trying to explain to a client that it’s not more words that convey the most information. It’s fewer words.
We’d been at this for nearly an hour. He hated all my suggestions…not enough features and benefits for his taste. So he – a creative guy himself (heard this before?) – was in the room to help us come up with something more suitable.
I get a lot of flak from some of my friends in the biz that I don’t play the political game well enough. My project has hit an obvious roadblock. This should be my cue to run with what the client likes best.
I’m thinking, maybe this should be my to cue to run. Instead, I pressed on. (I’m not that politically savvy.) Apple’s “Think different.” Nike’s “Just do it.” C’mon, these guys knew what they were doing, Mr. Client. Maybe you’d care to take note?
Nope. He wanted something more Tolstoyesque.
“So…tell me, on a completely different subject…what do you think is the greatest song lyric ever written?”
He was clearly confused. “Quick, tell me that one line in a song that sums up your favorite music – or even better, the happiest time of your life.”
His face lit up. “Well, that’s easy! Jimi Hendrix. ‘Purple Haze.’ ‘Skuse me while I kiss the sky.’”
I was told, in rather animated fashion, about his youth and the 1960s and a cross-country road trip and his first concert (The Grateful Dead) and how he met his wife at college. It seems whenever he hears “Purple Haze” – and especially that one line – it all comes alive.
“Skuse me while I kiss the sky.” Nothing specific about 1969 or a road trip or any of those other memories. And yet, everything.
That’s what a headline is supposed to do. In a few smart words, kick-start the imagination. Convey a feeling. Recreate an experience. The details, the “information,” is dealt with somewhere else. And in some ads, perhaps not at at all.
“…Interesting,” he said. “Tell you what, do you have a ‘Purple Haze’ headline?”
I did. He’s seen it already. “Nope. But that’s my job. Let me come up with one.”
We met a couple of days later. “So…did you bring ‘Purple Haze?'” I showed him three headlines, one of them the original.
Guess which one he chose?