The meteorite in the rear view mirror. The 35 earthquakes, on average, that rock the globe every day. The threat of hurricanes and tsunamis. The doom of cosmic rays that would otherwise rip our DNA to shreds, were it not for the thin magnetic field protecting the earth.
These are awesome, overarching realities of existence.
But would you read a sales letter about any of them? Maybe, maybe not. But now consider the pain of arthritis. The horror of halitosis. Dandruff, psoriasis, and public speaking. The date you’ll never get. The weight you’ll never lose.
Or how about fear of not surviving this current market crunch… or making a terrible investment? How about the fear of joint pain, heart attack, or cancer? How about the fear of just looking stupid?
Fear of saying the wrong thing to the opposite sex… fear of wearing the wrong shoes to a party… fear of flashing your yellow teeth on a date… or God forfend, the fear of looking fat in a thong?
Or perhaps the most devastating problem of all, an “embarrassment of riches.”
You notice immediately that fear — the deeply felt and personal kind — is local.
Personal. Immediate. And it’s no accident these same personal, immediate fears are the ones that tend to hold the most hooking power for headline writers. Not only because they’re specific. But because we have a sense of exactly what they mean to us. And we’re emotionally connected to the outcome.
Just as importantly, these immediate fears are attached to problems we feel we can solve… or hope we can. Your customers share that same sentiment. And tapping it is the key for you, as a copywriter, to making leads that start in the negative work.
The more seasoned you are, however, you quicker you realize that fear alone doesn’t make the sale. Showing you know the cause of anxiety wins you attention, but what really makes a fear headline work is the hint of a solution. An antidote. A key to escape the prison of worry.
Think about some of the most famous copywriting classics:
“Do You Make These Mistakes In English?”… “Do You Do Any of These Ten Embarrassing Things?”… “Why Some Foods ‘Explode’ In Your Stomach”… “Have You A ‘Worry’ Stock?”…
All focus on a fear innate to the target market.
But what really makes them work is what you don’t see here, but what’s surely delivered in the copy that follows… the promise of better language skills… better social skills… better health from better eating… safer investing…
By the end, the copy transforms the customer from pessimist to optimist, full of hope and ready to try whatever it is you have to offer. Of course, once you see it’s a pre-existing worry you’re identifying, almost any headline could be a ‘fear’ headline, at least indirectly.
“How to Win Friends and Influence People,” for instance, works because the copywriter identified the common fear of feeling alone or unimportant. Another headline classic, “Are You Ever Tongue-Tied at a Party?” identifies a similar fear.
But in each case, what makes the headline work is not just empathy for a reader’s concerns. That’s only the hook. Where the copy works is in offering a final, credible solution. If you can manage that… well then… you’ve nothing to be afraid of, right?