2016-12-06_2145Ironically enough, it IS an intriguing headline:

Why Writing Creative Headlines Hurt Conversions: What We Learned Analyzing 150,000 Opt-Ins

But the point the author purports to make is a dangerous one.

Now, to be fair, the author, Sean Bestor, says at the outset that article headlines do better when they’re creative and ought to be creative.

But he claims that headlines for pop-ups (i.e., call-outs and offers) shouldn’t be “creative.”

And to that I can only call bullsh*t.

Here’s why:

First, understand that Sean equates “creative” with “designed to create curiosity” (at least for the purposes of his article). And this is the crux of his problem.

Because there are 5 freakin’ letters in AIDAS* and for whatever unfathomable reason, Sean has decided not to read past the initial AI.

Generating curiosity through creative headlines works awesome when it comes to grabbing ATTENTION and generating INTEREST. That’s why Sean (rightly) says that you should continue to create and use creative headlines for content marketing. Because that’s essentially the job of the headline for an article or a print ad — to grab the reader’s attention and create enough interest in the material to get the rest of the ad looked at/read.

But once you actually have the visitor’s attention and interest, it’s now time to create DESIRE and ACTION.

In other words, you have to (eventually) make an offer which your visitor will find relevant (i.e., desirable) and credible (i.e., worth taking action on).

In Sean’s cited examples, the “straightforward” headlines win because they do just that: they provide clarity around what’s actually being offered and substantiate the value of the offered download.

In contrast, the “creative” headlines didn’t do any of that mainly because they were not designed to. They were written  generate curiosity, not instill desire, so the headlines kept the offer vague and provided no substantiation of value. The visitor, in turn, now left in the dark about what was actually on offer, opted out. A confused prospect never buys, as they say.

But don’t take my word on it; take a look at one of Sean’s examples for yourself:


Frankly, I don’t believe there is anything inherently less creative about “Every Tactic, Ranked (With The Tools And Conversion Rates)” than there is about “Are You Collecting Emails Wrong?”

In fact, I’d say the use of the word “Every” and the inclusion of the parenthetical remark in the so-called straightforward headline actually show a great deal of creativity. It’s just that the creativity was aimed at — you guessed it — generating desire and action rather than attention and interest.

Think about it, at this point App Sumo was essentially offering the visitor a toolbox. So how would a copywriter make that toolbox more appealing?

  1. They’d talk about how complete the toolbox was (enter use of the word “every”), and
  2. They’d talk about the included tools’ proven effectiveness at doing this or that job (with tools and conversion rates).

In fact, I’d dare say that more persuasive thought went into the so-called “straightforward” headline than went into the so-called creative headline.

Sure, the creative headline leverages the question technique and the “accuse them of doing something wrong” technique to generate curiosity, but does that really make it more creative or any more finely wordsmithed than the other headline?

The point is that creative copywriting — including the crafting of headlines — can be aimed at any number of goals beyond generating curiosity. Goals like inspiring greater desire for an offered item, substantiating one’s claims, or creating urgency to act now.

At the end of the day, this isn’t about creative vs. straightforward headlines. This is about knowing where and how to aim your creativity based on where the prospect is within the AIDAS persuasion model.

If you already have the readers attention and interest, it’s time to inspire desire and get them to take action. So aim your creativity there.

*AIDAS is a marketing acronym that stands for Attention-Interest-Desire-Action-Satisfaction, although most marketers leave off the final S. 



  1. Lorenzo Franzini on 12.09.2016

    Great post. Great blog. I’m learning a ton from your past articles so please keep writing them!
    I’m just studying marketing and headlines now so this is just my impression: I think the author of the linked post did’t really catch the true meaning of the “creative vs relevant” point. I read about that theory in both Ogilvy and Luke Sullivan’s books and then I’ve seen confirmed in sites and courses like Copyblogger/Authority. The bad kind of “creative” approach to headlines is in completely ignoring the message and try to just be poetic or inspiring. I’ve seen this attitude in many people improvising advertising copy, including myself a couple of years ago (ehm..). As creatives in other industries but illiterate copywriters we easily tend to go the “artist” way of mysterious and evocative images rather then aiming any goal at all. In this way I agree with the above statement. But for what you’re talking about here I think you’re dead right.