17th August 2018 Claire Hawes

How reading tabloid newspapers can improve your marketing copy

What tabloid writers can teach you about cutting through complexity and writing marketing copy that triggers emotions and sells

Have you ever wondered why red top tabloids outsell the so-called ‘quality’ or ‘serious’ broadsheet newspapers?

Picture this. You’re filling up your car with petrol, and your eye wanders over to a rack of newspapers on the forecourt.

Be honest, what are the headlines that grab your attention? Are they the sensible, factual headlines that feature on the broadsheets?

Or are they the outlandish headlines that elicit outrage, disgust or laughter?

Yes, I thought so!

Recently I flew British Airways and was given a choice of free newspapers to read on my flight. In addition to a sensible broadsheet, I couldn’t resist picking up The Sun and The Mirror.

On the one hand, my choice was a guilty pleasure. On the other, as a copywriter, I cannot help myself but admire tabloid story writing.

OK, I know what you’re thinking, tabloid newspapers feature nothing but salacious celebrity gossip and scandalous reporting.

But the truth is tabloid writing is a skill. What’s more, it’s a skill useful for anyone writing marketing copy.

Red-top veteran Ros Wynne-Jones summed it up neatly when he said: “At a good tabloid’s heart is an ability to cut through complexity with a sharp eye and convert it into a simple argument.”

To make daily news exciting and fun to read, tabloid journalists:

Entice readers with headlines

The number one purpose of a headline is to grab the reader’s attention. Tabloid headlines work in conjunction with images to sum up a story and ignite reader emotions.

Take this classic Sun front page:

The Sun Splash Headline Abu Hamza al-Masri, Sling your hook. What copywriters can learn from tabloid writers

Image: Abu Hamza al-Masri, a one-eyed radical with a metal hook for a hand
Headline: Sling your hook
Sub-headline: Mosque’s poison prophet told: Get out of Britain before we kick you out

I should point out that in digital marketing copy you cannot get away with so much wordplay. Your headlines must entice, but at the same time, you need to pay attention to SEO.

By this I mean if you Google ‘Osama Bin Laden Captured’, a story headlined “Bin Bagged’ is unlikely to feature highly in the rankings.

Set the pace with a strong lead

Tabloid writers know their audience. They write stories to which their readers can relate.

The first sentence of a news story is known as the lead. To entice readers to continue reading, tabloid writers first ask what does the reader most need to know? Then they sum up the whole story in the first sentence by answering the questions who, what, why, where, when and how.

Write tightly and brightly

To hold readers’ attention, tabloid writers convey the maximum amount of information in minimal words.

They take complex stories and tell them simply, without patronising their readers. To do this tabloid writers use plain and accessible English.

Use plenty of transitions

To move readers through the story, tabloid journalists carry readers from sentence to sentence with transition words and direct and indirect quotes.

‘Sell the sizzle, not the steak’

Tabloid writing is all about how the stories make you feel. To trigger emotions, tabloid writers use puns and adjectives.

Use active verbs

To add impact to their writing and to connect the reader with the action, tabloid writers use an active voice.

Write in a conversational style

OK, you do not normally hear the terms ‘love rat’ and ‘cops’ on the street, but in general tabloid writers use the language, their audience speaks.

Interestingly tabloid writers don’t use the typical inverted pyramid structure which lets editors cut articles from the bottom up.

Instead, tabloid writers circle and restate the lead, adding more detail so that they can lead to a grand finale.

To sum up

If you want to improve your marketing copy, it pays to pick up a tabloid newspaper once in a while.

You’ll want to take notice of how the writers:

  • Write enticing headlines
  • Set the pace with a strong lead
  • Sell the sizzle, not the steak (in marketing copy you always sell the benefits, not the features)
  • Use active verbs
  • Know their audience and write in a conversational style

So the next time you pick up a paper, pick up a tabloid as well. See how sharp the writing is.

You’ll be surprised and glad you did.

And finally

If you would like help writing marketing copy that drives enquiries, then drop me a line to get information about pricing.

Claire Hawes, copywriter and owner of The Content BoutiqueAbout Claire Hawes

Claire Hawes is a marketing communications copywriter. She enjoys writing engaging copy that helps businesses to get noticed and attract enquiries. Claire’s experience mainly lies in the business to business sector. Her clients include both businesses and digital marketing agencies.

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