One of my favorite proverbs is often attributed to Benjamin Franklin. You have likely heard it. It’s the ‘For the want of a nail’ proverb.
“For the want of a nail the shoe was lost,
For the want of a shoe the horse was lost,
For the want of a horse the rider was lost,
For the want of a rider the battle was lost,
For the want of a battle the kingdom was lost,
And all for the want of a horseshoe-nail.”
The message is clear. Seemingly unimportant acts or omissions can have grave and unforeseen consequences.
There are several other well-repeated proverbs with the same message.
“A stitch, in time, saves nine”
“An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure”
The History of ‘For The Want of a Nail’
What I find fascinating about the ‘For the want of a nail’ proverb is that it’s old. Many forms of the proverb were in use before Benjamin Franklin published his version. Franklin’s version was published in Poor Richards Almanack, June 1758.
The oldest version of the proverb is attributed to a German poet, Freidank. Freidank was the author of Bescheidenheit (“practical wisdom, correct judgment, discretion”). His work was popular in the German Middle Ages. Today you can find many manuscripts, as well as a Latin translation. Bescheidenheit was published around 1230.
Below is Freidank’s version of the proverb.
Diz ſagent uns die wîſen, ein nagel behalt ein îſen, ein îſen ein ros, ein ros ein man, ein man ein burc, der ſtrîten kan. (“The wise tell us that a nail keeps a shoe, a shoe a horse, a horse a man, a man a castle, that can fight.”)
‘For The Want of a Nail’ in Popular Culture
What I take away from all this is that if a proverb has been going around for a good 800 years, you should pay attention! Even today popular culture transmits the proverb. Check out this clip from The Fast and the Furious: Tokyo Drift (2006).
Within digital marketing the ‘For the want of a nail’ proverb has resonance. It can be applied to so many core elements of the discipline. One of the best examples of where the proverb fits is the writing of headlines.
The Best Headline of all time?
According to copyblogger.com, only 20% of people who scan your headline will continue reading your content. My guess is that this number will get worse as time goes on. Why? The saturation of the online world.
If you want your content to read, you have to start creating headlines that your readers can’t ignore. One of my favorite headlines is by advertising legend, David Ogilvy. It was for Rolls Royce.
“At 60 miles an hour, the only thing you hear in the new Rolls Royce is the ticking of the dashboard clock …”
According to lore, he rewrote the headline more than 100 times!
The 50/50 Rule
David Ogilvy is famous for developing the 50/50 rule. This rule states that you should spend half of the time it takes you to develop a piece of content on the headline. So, if it takes you two hours to write a post, then you should spend an hour coming up with the headline. If it takes you four hours to write an article, you should spend two hours on the title.
How to Write a Great Headline
So how do you write the best headlines? There are a lot of articles on this subject. Some are good. Many are what a friend of mine would classify as ‘intellectual masturbation’. I would tell all would-be headline writers to ask themselves six questions before they ‘put pen to paper’.
- Does your headline offer the reader a benefit?
- What details can you use to make your headline more intriguing and believable?
- Does your headline trigger a strong, actionable emotion from the reader?
- Does your headline present a proposition that will grab your reader’s attention?
- Should you add some form of proposed transaction to the headline?
- Could you add some form of intrigue to steer the prospect into reading your opening copy?
Do you need help with headlines? Give us a call today to discuss how Affiliate Manager Expert can assist you. +1-307-222-0097.
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Quote of The Week
“Good ad; all facts. No adjectives. All specifics. Sold a lot of cars.”― David Ogilvy