A headline quickly and briefly grabs readers’ attention. A headline should summarise a story. Attracting attention is the first priority, but it must engage the audience and influence people to buy the paper or magazine to read the story. Headlines can take up to ½ of the page of a tabloid newspaper – so every word matters.
Some famous headlines
Legendary 80s/90s Southampton FC player Matt Le Tissier was once caught kissing a girl who wasn’t his wife. Headline: “MATT LE KISSIER”. His marriage subsequently broke up – “MATT LE SPLITTIER”.
One in The Sun about Britney Spears falling over and hurting her knee.
BRIT KNEE TEARS.
Loads of pun!
FROM RUSSIA WITH GLOVES. In 1994 Chelsea played their first European away game for years. They won 4-2 on aggregate against Viktoria Zizkno. Russian goalkeeper Dmitri Kharine saved a crucial penalty, and one of the British tabloids immortalised him with this headlines.
HOW DO YOU SOLVE A PROBLEM LIKE KOREA? In October 2006, North Korea decided to conduct a nuclear test. International condemnation followed, but no nation’s response topped The Sun’s. The newspaper’s headline raised the question of which is worse: reality TV, or a nuclear holocaust?
SUPER CALEY GO BALLISTIC, CELTIC ARE ATROCIOUS. This headline from The Sun proves that it is difficult to beat when it comes to puns. It’s the classic formula: use a song lyric everyone knows, substitute a few words and stick it on the sports pages. Brilliant.
CELEBRITY BIG BLUBBER. While part of the country was obsessed with the antics of Chantelle in Celebrity Big Brother, the rest of the population were intrigued to see a whale swim up The Thames and into central London. Despite rescuers’ best efforts, the poor animal didn’t survive.
Hairdressers and fish and chip shops
These two classic genres of shops use great puns and headlines in their business names.
Hairdressers (just a few)
- A cut above
- Headmasters (conveniently next to a school)
- Beachcombers Hair Salon (St Ives, Cornwall)
- On The Fringe
- Cuttin’Um Palace (groan)
- Hair-flick (presumably Allo Allo fans)
- On Reflection
Fish and chop shops
- The Cod Father
- A great plaice
- The fryery
- A Batter Plaice
A Load of Pollocks
Batter the Devil you Know
Cod by Mr Chips
For Cod’s Sake
So how do you do headlines?
A few tips:
- Use numbers – a really obscure number (eg 19, 37) catches attention or very large number
- Use interesting adjectives – strange, free, effortless
- Use what, why, how, or when
- Make an audacious promise – sort of dare your reader to read without over-promising. Be bold. Be innocuously seductive.
- Use alliteration and cadence
- Use puns
- Use humour
- Use active verbs and everyday words in common use – as short as possible
- Be topical or a bit controversial
- Focus on the reader
- Think about keywords for search engines