Kick Your Headlines UP a Notch

When you set out to create a sales message that connects with prospects’ dominant resident emotions, you have no choice but to begin with the prospect.

Specifically, you begin by considering the prospect’s most intense positive and negative feelings about …

  • Himself or herself relative to the subject at hand …
  • The benefits your product and premiums promise …
  • The medium – direct mail, the Internet, print, or any other medium – through which your message is being delivered …
  • The offer – the product and premiums, price, payment terms, guarantee, and the process of ordering …

 … And then, you devise ways to deal with each of these dominant resident emotions in ways that leverage them in your favor: Get them working FOR you; never against you.

When you get it right, the attention-getting power, readership and response of your promotions skyrockets. When you get your prospect’s emotions working for you …


Here’s a promotion for Phillips Publishing’s Retirement Letter – one of their flagship publications in the 1980s and early 1990s, edited at the time by my old friend and fellow (former) Prescott, Arizona resident, Pete Dickinson.

To make this easier for you to follow, just click the photo of the promotion. It’ll open a full-size photo in a separate window that you can save or print for reference.

This promo could have simply led with a headline that said, “Retire RICH!” – a big benefit to be sure. But that kind of lead can lack credibility and worse, it misses the opportunity to fully activate the prospect’s dominant resident emotions about retirement.

Instead, this lead connects with prospects at a deeper, far more emotional level – and in doing so, accomplishes six major objectives …

  1. It transforms passive emotions (guilt and frustration) into active ones (anger and the thirst for revenge): Most people begin planning for retirement far too late in life and whenever the subject is raised, the first feelings they have are a) fear and b) guilt.

    By putting the blame on others (politicians, bureaucrats and brokers), this lead instantly assuages the prospect’s feelings of guilt – saying, in effect, “It’s not your fault!”

    Plus, by making others responsible for the prospect’s predicament, this lead transforms his fear into anger – a far more actionable emotion – and offers him a way to act on it.

    And, it validates this newfound righteous indignation by having Pete express it for the prospect in a personal, emotionally charged “declaration of war” that instantly makes Pete the unchallenged leader in this fight.

  2. It eliminates the “salesman/prospect” dynamic: Recognizing how we all feel when confronted by a salesperson – uncomfortable, skeptical, guarded – is also a powerful “dominant emotion” technique. In this lead, Pete is not presented as someone who wants to sell the reader anything. Instead, he’s in the same boat the prospect is – fighting for his own retirement – and prepared to lead the prospect into a comfortable, financially secure future of his own.

    Pete is positioned as a powerful ally and champion who is unapologetically on the prospect’s side – the first step in making Pete and the prospect fast friends.

  3. It offers the prospect an instantaneous emotional bribe for reading this: After activating the prospect’s feelings about the enemies of his retirement, he is offered the emotional satisfaction of “striking back” and getting “sweet revenge” against the scoundrels that are cheating him. Again – a great dominant emotion technique: You deliver an emotional reward – a kind of vaporware “premium” – instantly and completely free of charge. The prospect doesn’t have to buy a thing; gratification is instant.

  4. It delivers Pete’s “Big Promise” as a Unique Selling Proposition: Pete’s vision for the reader is bigger and better than the prospect’s own vision – “a richer lifestyle in retirement than you have now!” This promise works well on two levels …

    FIRST, it raises a fascinating proposition. Most of us just assume that we’ll have to make compromises when we begin living on a fixed income.

    Pete says, “THAT’S WRONG: You can actually live better in retirement than you are now.” Who in their right mind wouldn’t feel eager to hear more?

    SECOND, it works by calling out the two major types of prospects for the Retirement Letter: a) Folks who are speeding toward retirement, and b) People who are already retired. No matter which category you fall into, this lead tells you that this message is for YOU.

  5. It includes a powerful credibility element: Dominant emotion selling considers all of the emotions the prospect is feeling when reading the message. And to our over advertised-to prospects, skepticism is definitely resident – especially after the presentation of a “big benefit” or USP. This cover addressed prospects’ skepticism head-on in just nine words: “197,000 successful Americans over 40 have already done it!”

    Not only does this line suspend the reader’s disbelief, it suggests that an elite group of people are actually living the high life he only dreams about … and that this is his invitation to join them.

  6. It includes a second bribe just for opening the package: Earlier, the prospect was told that Pete would deliver a powerful and instantaneous emotional benefit if they would only read this. He would help them get “sweet revenge” and “set things right.”

    Now, Pete is also promising to deliver a tangible benefit right in this magalog – a “free gift” just for reading this – a “CENTER PULL-OUT SECTION: Retirement Lies That Could Cost You Everything You Ever Worked For.”

    Again, this banner at the bottom of the page pulls double duty by also presenting the “horrifying alternative” – the consequences of failing to listen to what Pete has to say.

That’s a LOT to accomplish with just 65 words!

I count just 65 words of headline deck copy on this cover – and they cover the prospect’s most dominant resident emotions at every level …

  • His feelings of guilt regarding his own failure to provide a more comfortable retirement for himself and his spouse and his fear of poverty and dependence in retirement …
  • His disdain for politicians and bureaucrats who constantly seemed to be taking something away from him – never giving anything back – and for brokers who promise the moon but invariably fail to make him rich enough to retire comfortably …
  • His yearning that justice be done, and even …
  • His skepticism about claims made in direct mail promotions and the pitchmen who make them.

Here are five more headlines and decks – see if you can spot how they use the principles of dominant resident emotion copy to connect with prospects on a visceral level.

Now, you gotta ask yourself: How could employing these principles ramp up the attention-getting power, readership, and response to the ads you’re working on now?

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Published: July 23, 2014

1 Response to “Kick Your Headlines UP a Notch”

  1. Practical and very helpful examples.

    I noticed "congressmen" was misspelled in the first example.

    I loved the headline "What's Wrong With Getting RICHER QUICKER?"

    Wes FahlenkampJuly 23, 2014 at 6:20 pm

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