Making headlines: 19 print ads with attention grabbing copy

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When it comes to print advertising, I am a sucker for the old-style: riveting headline that usually brings a smile to your face. There was a time when this was standard – early ‘90s, perhaps, where the print ads almost followed a format. There was a clever headline, followed by long copy, with a last line that tied up with the headline in some manner. The division of labour between Art & Copy was clear. And then came the era of visual print ads were that line blurred and it was all about telling a story visually.

Sometime back, Scamp wrote about how to write headlines, quoting the classic Timberland and Porsche ads. Advertising for The Economist embodied this style with ‘I never read The Economist’ being the most popular one. Here are a few examples of ads that essentially rely on a powerful headline to lure the reader into finding out more. Not all the work shown here would classify as great or classic- this list is no patch on the work featured in The Copy Book – but worth having a dekho.

1. 88.6FM

There is a market for FM Radio listeners who hate the over-exposed popular music. This appeals to the their head-banging tastes perhaps. Michael Bolton could also be a logical punching bag for this kind of stuff.

88.6Fm-2 Agency: FCB, Austria. Rest of the ads are here.

2. Becks Beer

This is classic Neil French advertising. One may quibble about the stretched link to the proposition of ‘expensive beer’ but no gainsaying that it keeps you riveted. Don’t miss the droll humour in the last 2 paragraphs. Becks-incompetent

3. Dragon Lee Chinese Van

This is an old campaign from the Trikaya Grey stable, written by Freddy Birdy. During those days, Freddy Birdy and his Art partner Naved were a much sought after team. The story goes that one of them had street side food from this Chinese van in Delhi and had food poisoning. As a tribute they created these ads.

Dragon Lee-fast

Dragon Lee-water

Dragon lee-Dara Singh

To know more about Dara Singh, see here.

4. The Economist

Everyone has their favourite Economist headline. Here are 3 of my favourites.

Economist - err
Mind expanding


5. De Beers

This is a 2001 ad, created by JWT, New York.. The Creaive Director, Chris D’Rozario was the one of the many stalwarts of Trikaya Grey during the late ‘80s and early ‘90s.


6. Action Aid

These set of ads, released in 2005 have been wrongly credited to the legendary Indra Sinha. Great copy nevertheless.

indra sinha one

indra sinha two

7. Lamborghini

I had written about these set of ads earlier.I thought this brought out the speed angle beautifully. Combined with the art direction & photography, has the right amount of sophistication.


8. Mini

Does this fit in under great Art or great Copy? Both, I guess.

Mini Letters-F

Agency: Jung von Matt/Alster, Hamburg, Germany. Rest of the ads are here.

9. Premiere Pay TV

This proposition has been used in several campaigns but this headline combined with a poster-like visual is a stand out for me.

Premiere-toilet cleaner

10. Volkswagen

The 60-year celebrations of the Volkswagen included these set of ads. Guaranteed to appeal both the dad and the son.


Agency: DDB, Paris. See the entire campaign here.

11. Star TV: the power of TV

This 2005 ad from Star TV promotes the power of TV. I guess this is meant for advertising trade publications. Do they need convincing about the power of TV?

Power of TV

12. Cancer Patients Aid Foundation

This deservingly won a metal at the Cannes in 2003.

Cancer cures

13. Mauritius Tourism

I wish I could find copies of the classic ads from Trikaya Grey, Enterprise Nexus, Ambience and others from the early ‘90s. The ads for Grindwell Norton, Mauritius Tourism, NECC are timeless. You find some in this Classic Indian print ads set.


Personally speaking, I will always have a soft corner for this medium, irrespective of today’s pressures to create a surround campaign with emphasis on online, ambient etc. Thanks to all those who played a part in creating these print ads.

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  1. They’re really fantastic ads. I’ll be sharing them with friends. I love the diamond ad.

  2. Great ad examples. The longer I am in the business, the more readily I come to the conclusion that great print and web advertising is 20% visuals, 80% copy. With some exceptions.

  3. some of these are really badly done to be perfectly honest

  4. Thanks, Jaine. As I said in the post ‘not all the work shown here would classify as great or classic’. Which ones did you find to be ‘really badly done’?

  5. On a fine Monday morning…curiosity made me open one of the many drawers in the old (Trikaya) Grey office (Phoenix Mills)…came face-to-face with some of the original ‘proofs’ of the Mauriitius campaign…devoured them for breakfast, lunch and dinner…greatest regret…didn’t ‘borrow’ them…think they would have been infinitely safe in my private collection…might be in a minority…but definitely think a strong headline-based ad has just that wee bit more substance…

  6. vivek kamath Reply

    hi lucky, love your site (disclaimer and all). the dragon lee campaign is hilarious. i hadn’t seen the blue one before. have you seen freddy’s paintings? really edgy stuff. will try and mail you a link. most print work now follows john hegarty’s ‘write less, say more’ mantra. not all of them manage to pull it off though.

    among the nicer stuf is a print campaign for seagram featuring saif.

    one ad said:

    being anari
    being cyrus
    being langda tyagi
    being saif

    the other said:

    mother’s side
    father’s side
    my side

    nice change from the time clients looked at logo and said make it large.

  7. Thanks for collecting these! I got into the business back in a day when it was much more common to read literate print work. Fast forward to today. You know, people say no one reads copy. I firmly believe no one bothers to read today’s copy. When you look at a Neil French ad (or any ad filled with literate copy) you must think of the copy the same way you’d think of an expensive Nadav Kander photograph. It’s part of the art direction. It says, “this brand has a personality and a lot to talk about.” Doesn’t matter if people read it; that’s just extra reward. It’s a shame very few clients can be persuaded of that anymore. • The written TV spot is terrific; but it also reminds me that great ideas exist out there in the ether, and get reincarnated. I remember being struck, as a Jr. Writer, by a radio ad out of Fallon McElligott that featured Fred Gwynne (Herman Munster) reading the lyrics to “Hound Dog,” to make the same point about Elvis’ music. • Anyway: thanks again!

    • Carl, thanks for dropping by. That bit about ‘copy as part of art direction’ was a nice way of putting it. Yes, pity you can’t convince a client today of that.

  8. Love the VW and Freddy Birdie ones. Thanks for sharing this. And I have to agree with Carl (which is quite painful when you’re a copywriter yourself).

  9. Love this post – thanks. The Economist ads are always pretty special. We’re put together a gallery of innovative ads which may be of interest to you – take a look and let us know what you think:

  10. balasubramanian.g Reply

    Quite an informative presentation. A man with literary bent of mind, a strong bis for ads
    I found this article quite useful. i will avidly go through the archives and the blog.

  11. Hi …Awesome collection. Economist was always my favourite ones..Especially i love the "well Read" one
    (colour pallets)

  12. Cars ads are always the most creative. I don't really know why! They must spend so much more money on advertising than other companies.. I really love the VW one "vehicle you were conceived in"

  13. Paris Cougar Reply

    I remember when i saw this "The Economist" ad. Groundbreaking!

  14. “No slant eyed waitresses,” is tasteless beyond measure. Freddy Birdy sounds less like talent and more like a racist douchebag.

  15. Thanks for the compliment, albeit in connection with ads which I keep telling people I did not write. Somewhere I have some ads I did write for Books from India. I’ll send you one if you like. Some words about Neil Godfrey coming soon on my website, which you helpfully plug. Also we are planning a CDP section, if we can get all that lovely old work back from wherever it has got to. best wishes, Indra

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