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Thought Leadership
September 8, 2023

Write the Best Real Estate Headlines (with help from David Ogilvy)

There was a time when having a website was enough to demonstrate a company’s marketing acumen.

We didn’t have to strategize ways to push people to it or invent tactics to get them to stay there. A good-looking website with some shiny Flash animations told everyone your company was modern, tech-savvy and worth hiring. Automatic credibility.

The trajectory of online advertising was similar. Clicks came easily — at first.

Those days are long behind us. The Internet is only getting louder and more powerful. However, with the right digital display ad sending people to the right landing page, customers can come easy. Or easier, rather.

But what makes a good real estate advertising?

For real estate advertising, it’s the same thing that makes any ad worth responding to: a great headline.

Advertising legend David Ogilvy espoused that a headline is 80% of an ad’s worth. Get it right, and it’ll be a winner. Unfortunately, it’s so easy to get wrong.

Ogilvy’s favorite headline was for an automobile ad:

“At 60 miles an hour, the loudest noise in the new Rolls-Royce comes from the electric clock.”

Adwerx Jane Harris sample ads great headlines

That line describes features and capabilities (60 mph / peace and quiet / electric clock), introduces the product (New Rolls-Royce), and uses contradictory car ad language by not discussing engines, wheels or other internal combustion technologies.

How can you apply these ideas to an ad about a house? Here’s an idea:

“There’s one thing missing from this 4-bedroom: game night.”

It might not be David Ogilvy, but it does describe the home while reaching out directly to a person looking for a home. It sets a scene instantly. Instead of “telling” the reader this home is great for get-togethers, the headline “shows” that same attribute.

It suggests the home is ideal for entertaining, has many modern amenities, and above all else, is for sale.

This is also known as selling the “sizzle” and not the “steak.” What makes the steak delicious? The sizzle. What makes a real estate ad intriguing? A story.

Cliches for better or worse

Try to avoid real estate sales cliches in your headlines. If you’ve seen a headline a thousand times, imagine your buyer or seller.

Again, this comes to the “show” vs “tell.” Telling a person you’re a local expert is redundant. It’s expected you’ll know the market in which you’re working.

In short, agents have to stop confusing their expertise for what it is a customer wants. A hard pill to swallow for the industry is the fact that so many agents provide an equal level of service.

Take this David Ogilvy favorite for a woman’s beauty product:

“How Women Over 35 Can Look Younger”

It appeals directly the ego. It’s personal, superficial, and some may even say offensive. Yet, lines like this became the de-facto format for the entire beauty product industry.

Applied to an ad for new listing clients, this idea could translate to something like this:

“Sell for more than your neighbor did.”

This plays on our drive to keep pace with the Joneses. We all want to have the better lawn, the better car, and of course, the better house. Because homes are so cosmetically subjective, money is the only true equalizer. If it’s worth more, it means you are too, right?

Is this a healthy mindset? No. Could it get you a listing, or at least more clicks on your ad? Likely.

During an ad campaign for a U.S.-based travel company targeting British tourists, research showed that Europeans believed it was too expensive to visit the states. The resulting ad headline read:

How to tour the U.S.A. for £35 a week.”

The subheads went on to list a few landmarks that cost little to visit and affordable lodging options.

Cost is a major barrier to homeownership, especially with today’s ever-dwindling inventory. How can you play on that?

“You deserve a home. We can help you afford it.”

Of course, a prospective buyer believes they deserve a home. This headline works on confirmation bias, it tells them what they want to hear. It positions the agent or brokerage as being on their side, and as a resource to find unique mortgage programs and more affordable homes.

Headlines need to be thought about and based on research. One of Ogilvy’s primary tenets in advertising is that ads need to sell, that is their purpose.

Keep your headlines tight, and use clear, easy-to-understand language that reflects the way your customers speak.

We’re the first to tell you that advertising is hard.

Which is exactly why it works.

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