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The Pimp, the Grocer and the Hit Man: Magnetise Your Headings Using the Power of the Unexpected

Posted By Guest Blogger 30th of June 2011 Writing Content 0 Comments

This guest post is by Aman Basanti of Ageofmarketing.com.

In addition to death and taxes, there is another bitter pill you have to swallow as a blogger. It is that pimps, grocers and hit men all have an unfair advantage when it comes to commanding attention in the marketplace.

Be it an advert, a news story or a how to article, those who sell sex, food or danger attract more attention than the rest of us. Our subconscious minds are programmed to take note of these three things, and disproportionately assign attention to them.

Beyond sex, food and danger

So does that mean the rest of us are ruined? Does that mean that we are forever subject to the tyranny of the sex-selling pimps, food-flaunting grocers, and gun-toting hit men?

No. Because we have our own weapon for attracting attention and it is equally as powerful as sex, food, and danger.

What is this weapon of mass attraction?

The power of the unexpected.

You know what happens if we catch you smoking here at Southwest, don’t you?

“If I could have your attention for a few moments,” said the voice overhead. The passengers looked up to hear what exciting message the flight attendant had for them that day, only to realize that it was just another in-flight safety demonstration.

You know: “fasten your seat belts, place your tray tables in an upright position, don’t smoke on the plane and, in case of an emergency, follow the lights along the side of the aisle.”

One by one, the passengers started tuning out as quickly as they had tuned in, going back to reading their magazines, peering out the window or whatever else they had been doing previously.

Then it happened.

“If you haven’t been in an automobile since 1965, the proper way to fasten your seat belt is to slide the flat end into the buckle,” unexpectedly announced the attendant. Suddenly the tired old message to fasten your seat belts sprung to life.

So did the one to follow the lights along the side of the aisle.

“And as the song goes, there might be fifty ways to leave your lover, but there are only six ways to leave this aircraft: two forward exit doors, two over-wing removable window exits, and two aft exit doors. The location of each exit is clearly marked with signs overhead, as well as red and white disco lights along the floor of the isle. Made ya look!”

As for the “don’t smoke on the plane” part, the attendant had a way of spicing that one up as well.

“Speaking of smoking, there’s never any smoking aboard our flights. You know what happens if we catch you smoking here at Southwest, don’t you? You’ll be asked to step out onto our wing and enjoy our feature movie presentation, Gone With The Wind.”

And just like that the flight attendant had attracted the attention of everyone on board. Even the most indifferent passengers were listening intently and smiling. Most importantly, for our purposes here, she did it without implying sex, showing food or threatening danger.

What was her secret?

The flight attendant’s secret

At the heart of her feat was the use of the unexpected. We all know what an in-flight safety demo is meant to look like. We have an existing pattern and picture of that situation. What the attendant did was to break that pattern. She used humor, which in itself works because it makes unexpected connections, to challenge and change, and thus draw attention to, the tired old demonstration.

As remarkable as the flight attendant example is, however, it is not instructive of how most bloggers can use it on their blogs. To understand that we have to look at the Freakonomics Formula.

The Freakonomics formula for writing killer headlines

Steven Levitt and Stephen Dubner’s books, Freakonomics and Superfreakonomics, have sold over 5 million copies worldwide. Apart from being controversial and insightful, what make the books attention worthy are their catchy chapter titles. By pairing two unrelated entities and connecting them in some way relevant to the message of the chapter, the authors create magnetic titles.

Here are some of the chapter titles from their books:

  • What Do School Teachers and Sumo Wrestlers Have in Common?
  • How is the Ku Klux Klan Like a Group of Real-Estate Agents?
  • How is a street prostitute like a department-store Santa?
  • What do Al Gore and Mount Pinatubo have in common?

The titles work because you do not normally associate teachers with sumo wrestlers, nor prostitutes with department store Santas. They break existing patterns of association, evoke curiosity and result in, as the flight attendant put it, the “Made ya look!” phenomenon.

So if you want your blog posts to stand out give them catchy blog post titles using the Freakonomics formula. Find two entities and create an unexpected connection between them.

Here are some more examples to get your mental juices flowing:

  • 5 Things a Bad Dog Can Teach You About Writing Good Copy
  • How Are Entrepreneurs Like Young Children?
  • What do Charles the Great and Genghis Khan Have in Common?
  • Why Suicide Bombers Should Buy Life Insurance
  • 5 Diseases I would Pay Money to Get
  • 3 Ways to Impress Your Partner by Being Less Romantic
  • 5 Ways Porn Created the Modern World

Have you used magnetic headlines on your blog? How did they do at pulling crowds to your content?

Aman Basanti writes about the psychology of buying and teaches you how you can use the principles of consumer psychology to boost your sales. Visit www.Ageofmarketing.com/free-ebook to get his new ebook—Marketing to the Pre-Historic Mind: How the Hot New Science of Behavioural Economics Can Help You Boost Your Sales—for FREE.

About Guest Blogger
This post was written by a guest contributor. Please see their details in the post above.
  1. If you have a title like this, should the post actually compare teachers and sumo wrestlers?

    • That’s a good one Tim!

      Women Entrepreneurs HQ Show

    • Actually, it’s quite simple and a good example can be found at the beginning of the article. You start with that and explain what you mean by “teachers are like sumo wrestlers”. After that, you apply the analogy to the real subject of the article.

    • ideally, yes. But if the point of the post is to show that its okay to have a headline that is unrelated to the post, then you could use anything!!

      • While I appreciate your view, I do not believe that the headline is unrelated to the post. The post is about how to beat pimps, grocers and hitmen in the attracting-attention game by using unexpected headlines.

        This is made quite clear in the first few paragraphs.

        Generally, however, you make a good point. The unexpected heading should have some relevance to the post. The stronger the connection, the better the piece will do.

  2. Gosh,


    These titles are all so tempting.

    Hmmmmm – I wonder which one I should use for my next post????

    This is really a great post and those titles do want to make you click on the link.

    I love the humour – well done.

    Thanks for the entertaining lesson my friend!

    Women Entrepreneurs HQ Show

    • Krizia,

      I’m glad you enjoyed it. Thank you for your encouraging words. I really appreciate it.

      As for the ‘Hmmmmm – I wonder which one I should use for my next post????’ – Don’t use any of those. They are all real articles from around the net – I should have made that clear – therefore you will be plagiarising.

      But hopefully it does give you an idea of what I meant by unexpected connections :)

  3. I have read the book Freakonomics, and I loved your thoughts about putting that attention getting style into practice!

  4. A very good and interesting article. I have to say, the headline caught my eye. I also enjoyed the story about the flight attendant. Both an insightful and entertaining article at the same time.

    • I was very happy when I read your response.

      ‘Both an insightful and entertaining article at the same time.’ – That was exactly what I was after. I wanted to deliver a useful blogging lesson through an interesting story. Glad I managed to do it :)

      Thank you for posting.

  5. 55 Ways to See the World Without Opening Your Door.

    Great article, well written and snappy. Thanks.


  6. Anytime anyone points out the fact that food has an edge where marketing’s concerned, I get a little giddy. I never really thought about that until after I launched my current biz (Word Chef); but now I realize that this was one of the best things I could’ve ever done to give myself a bit of a headstart. Not only do I get to use sexy food photos on my blog about writing, but I also get to talk about writing using food/cooking metaphors. By the end of the day, I’ve whipped myself up into a froth! My point? Thanks for the validation. I also appreciate a well-written post, and yours is definitely one of those. Will check you out over at your place.

    • I checked out your site – its a cool concept. I love the food analogies – Your marketing is a like a dinner party – smart! You’ve obviously taken the other strategy – if you cant beat the tyrannical grocer, become one! haha.. Good luck

  7. Loved it! Gotta scramble for some shocking headlines!

  8. Absolutely love the “catchy blog post titles”!!

    Something to consider for my own blog…

  9. I think I need to rewrite the headline titles adding some creative juice.

  10. “How to Get Away With Peeing on Your Boss’s Desk”

  11. But its true sex sells, globally

  12. I think referring a “grocer” is a bit tenuous, but I like the post :-) Very well written. You make a very good example of why wrenching people out of what they expect can be so powerful.

  13. James Greg says: 06/30/2011 at 7:43 pm

    Well done Aman. I only read this post because of the catchy title you have made your point there. The idea is fantastic and it just made me thinking to use of the title in a blog.

  14. hi
    I too had my entire concentration on the Flight Attendant thing… it was great and i am loving it,
    Freakonimics. :)

  15. Interesting perspective on writing content. Standing out with a unique writing angle and strong comparisons can definitely help you stand out from the crowd.

  16. You just inspired me, a LOT! I never used those kind of headlines on my blog but for sure they would work! That is such a genius idea!!! Thank you so much!

    • Marie,

      You always have something nice to say. Thank you. To a writer, there is nothing more to satisfying than to help somebody uncover something they may not have thought about. I’m glad I was able to do that for you :)

      P.s. your last post on the lies we tell ourself was great – it was very inspiring.

  17. I absolutely loved this. It kept my attention all the way through and really did a good job of making a point that will stick with me for a long time. I shared it on my Facebook Page today.

    My only question is if these titles do well in Google searches — or do you depend on the article article to do that job?

    • It’s one of the best feelings to know that something you wrote really hit home with someone! Thank you.

      As for the SEO part, no it would be best for SEO because the closer you have the keywords to left of the headline the better the SEO results. So you probably should not use this technique for every blog post title. With that said, you could use a work around to keep the keywords and use the unexpected in your heading.

      For example, say you have a piece on incentives and cheating. Rather than saying;
      What sumo wrestlers and teachers have in common

      Cheating and Incentives: What sumo wrestlers and teachers have in common

      That way, you can have the best of both worlds :) Hope that helps

  18. Why do monkeys always smile at midnight?

    Something like that? Maybe not.

  19. Hahaha! This was a very fun read:). I’d say that flight attendant is one savvy marketer. If that’s not a way to hijack (pardon the pun) your audiences attention while auditioning for film, TV, and standup work, I don’t know a better way to break into Hollywood.

    I’m still laughing…:P.

    Thanks, Aman!

  20. How about your keywords? If you relate unrelated things online, the search engines won’t find your articles. Their category won’t be clear.

    Such titles may work for attracting readers, but their keyword combination is totally against basic SEO.

    • You raise a good point Christina.

      Please see my response to Rebecca above.

      • I’m sorry for not perceiving that you had already answered my question. I tried to quickly read all posts before mine, but I had to time to read everything.

        By the way, today I wrote a very different article for my blog. In fact, I started writing it yesterday and I finished writing it today. I remembered your guidance. I decided to write a very substantial article with very interesting information.

        I’m really glad with the results! However, my title contains the keywords that (I believe) will attract visitors and at the same time, help this article have a good ranking. I only took from your lesson the idea of being original instead of writing everything the same old way.

        I don’t think I can use the titles you suggest because I lead with mental health. My topic is too serious for jokes. However, I liked very much the idea of writing something totally different and really capture the public attention. Thank you!

        • No problems Christina, there is no requirement to take the idea completely. You take what you think would suit your niche the most. Plus, I agree, your niche may be too serious to be using quirky titles like the ones I suggested.

          As long as you found something useful then it was a worthwhile read :)

  21. Classic! I am in the Carpet, Upholstery, Tile/Stone & grout Cleaning Cleaning business in Orange County, and when I first was taught how to write copy, I saw all these sample articles of pictures of dust mites with the caption “look what could be crawling on your child” which obviously is a scare tactic. I never used it but I get the idea. Great article, I will work on my Headlines!

  22. Nice Post, I love all the Title Suggestiones and I have to start Implementing this ASAP.

  23. Wow! this is a great Post, I never thought of this; I love all the Title Suggestions and I have to start Implementing this ASAP.
    * How to boost Your Traffic with a Mouse.*

  24. I find the short catchy title gains interest. I know when I scan through other blog titles, it takes those words in the title to draw me into reading.

  25. I find the short catchy title gains interest. I know when I scan through other blog titles, it takes those words in the title to draw me into reading.

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