headlines that say something

You would think daters on Match.com would communicate something about themselves in the headline. After all, to grab attention quickly there’s only a picture and the headline. You’re mostly stuck with your pic, but as Dan and Chip Heath, authors of Made to Stick said, “With the headline, you can start from scratch. Given the stakes, these headlines should really zing. They don’t.”

A search of over 1,000 Match.com headlines reveals winners such as “Looking for Love” and “Hey”. If you’re on Match.com, it’s pretty well a given that you’re looking and if you can’t find anything more interesting say about yourself than, “Hey”, the Web site is not going to save you.

In their column for Fast Company magazine, the Heath brothers make the point that the headlines suck because of fear: “Fear of saying too much. Fear of saying something clever that someone might think is stupid. Fear of saying something revealing that might turn someone off. The headlines try desperately not to exclude anyone. In doing so, they succeed at boring everyone.”

The corporate world has the same “hey” problem. They think they have to be generically likable. “Most marketers feel that if they make a bold statement, they risk not just alienating customers—but their boss”, says Charles Rosen of the Amalgamated ad agency. “That fear takes the edge off all communications.”

Concrete images and language make it easier for like-minded people (and companies) to find one another. The column concludes, “Some singles have figured this out. Here’s a brilliant example: ‘Athletic math nerd seeks someone to hum the Seinfeld intro music with.’ While excluding, he’s simultaneously becoming more interesting to potential soul mates. More…