In all the post-mortem coverage last week about longtime Cosmopolitan editor Helen Gurley Brown—her advice for single women, her role in the sexual revolution, her complicated feminist agenda—in my opinion one of Ms. Brown’s contributions did not get enough attention.
That legacy? Her genius at creating headlines.
Ms. Brown said that her movie producer husband David Brown wrote all the attention-getting (and often provocative) cover lines, but she had to have played a major role in their creation.
Until Ms. Brown, magazine covers were quiet, sedate and unassuming. Under her direction, headlines became active, compelling and fun. They spoke directly to readers, offering them answers and advice.
“Buy this magazine,” the headlines promised, “and you will learn what you need to solve your problems, achieve your goals and achieve happiness.”
Here, for example, are sample Cosmo cover lines from the ‘60s and ‘70s:
- Facts about marijuana that are beyond dispute
- How to triple your energy (It’s so easy if you will only try it)
- What every girl should know about doctors (as men)
- What’s new and true about yoga?
- Hypoglycemia: Is low blood sugar getting you down?
Notice that I didn’t include any headlines pertaining to sex. That’s because A) I didn’t you to get distracted, and B) I want to focus on the characteristics of Cosmo cover lines that every communicator can use to make your subject lines and headlines more powerful:
- All about you. Cosmo headlines are geared to the needs and interests of readers. Notice the constant usage of the word “you” and the phrase “how to.”
- Short, snappy language. You only have a few seconds to get your point across, so choose punchy, action-oriented words. Here’s a recent example: “Is your workout making you fat?”
- Clear voice. Cosmo headlines are clearly written by a person, with a strong point of view. They’re authentic. They make a connection with the reader.
Read Cosmo. Doing so may not help your love life, but your headlines will definitely improve.