Why the Puritans Wrote the Best Headlines

No marketers have been more underestimated than the Puritans. There has been much talk of them these days. Books have been written about them. But never have I ever seen talk of their direct response marketing skills.

Now I will grant that some were better than others. Some of their headlines fall flat, but others have a certain sales-getting charm to them.

To prove this point, here is a short list of Puritan book titles and why they are effective:

The Religious Tradesman by Richard Steele

Subtitle: Plain and Serious Hints of Advice For the Tradesman’s Prudent and Pious Conduct; From His Entrance Into Business, To His Leaving It Off

This book is a spiritual handbook for businessmen. It focuses mostly on the moral considerations of business and also includes some practical considerations. This book is a spin-off of a popular and widely-read book called The Complete English Tradesman, which focused mainly on the practical aspects of running a successful business.

Why It Works:

  1. It identifies a target audience. Because of The Complete English Tradesman, there should be no doubt who the ideal customer is. And ideal customers will have no doubt that the book’s contents are for them.
  2. It uses a proven popular appeal. Because of the popularity of The Complete English Tradesman, potential customers can assume that this book will have similarly good quality information. 
  3. It promises a benefit. The Religious Tradesman promises a different but popular appeal during a time of heightened religious awareness. 

How to Improve:

  1. The benefit this title promises is a vague and unclear benefit. Now, that being said, the subtitle does a better job of promising a benefit. If the subtitle is printed on the front cover it would solve the problem. If it is printed inside the first page it may not pull in a potential buyer as well. This is one thing I noticed about these Puritan books. The subtitles are often better than the actual titles. 

Riches Increased By Giving to the Poor by Thomas Gouge

Subtitle: Or, the Surest and Safest Way of Thriving

This book is an argument for charity and giving, both from Scripture and from experience. I found the subtitle printed on the front cover of one edition.

Why It Works:

  1. It promises a clear benefit. “Riches Increased” and “Surest and Safest Way of Thriving” are two sure benefits. One is an appeal to the desire to make money. The other is an appeal to the desire for safety and security. Now, there may be an objection to these types of appeals from Christian marketers. It is understandable. But so often, the carnal desires which persuade men to buy books are the desires which the books themselves seek to correct. If that isn’t a lesson for Christian marketers, then I don’t know what is. Surely John Owen, Thomas Manton, William Bates, and Richard Baxter would not have endorsed a book that promotes carnal desires.
  2. It identifies the mechanism. “By Giving to the Poor” is the mechanism by which the reader will gain the benefits. Included a mechanism in your headline/advertisement gives an element of proof to your offer. It helps the reader to visualize how it works; and if they see how it could work, they begin to believe it will work.
  3. Curiosity. This title makes the reader curious. How could giving my money away make me richer, safer, and more secure? Curiosity will do more to attract a customer than a particular benefit. Sub-lesson: if the mechanism and the benefit clash, there is instant curiosity.

Precious Remedies Against Satan’s Devices by Thomas Brooks

This is probably Thomas Brooks’ most famous book by far. It goes through the different ways in which Satan tempts Christians. He gives practical and spiritual advice for resisting Satan and temptation. As a side note, Thomas Brooks has some of the best book titles. I don’t know if he wrote them or if someone else helped.

Why It Works:

  1. Contrast. Readers understand the evilness of Satan. Maybe did so more in Brooks day, but that is another article. By contrasting the book’s information with the inherent vileness of Satan, the book is automatically put in a glorious light. 
  2. Emotion – Desperation. “Precious” implies that these remedies are something to hold onto. If a reader has been feeling the weight of temptation, it is probable that they are looking for precious remedies. They may not even know how to describe what they need. But once this title describes it for them, they are endeared to it. If you can explain a customer’s inner emotions to them, they instantly feel like they can trust you and buy from you. 
  3. It Takes a Stand. Confidence begets confidence. People want to get behind something and attack their enemies, but often times they unsure or unable. This title solves both those problems. “Precious Remedies” is the how-to; “Against” is the confidence. By placing the solution first, the focus is on fixing the problems (i.e. what the reader will gain).

And that is it for this list. There are other tremendous book titles and headlines from the Puritans. Maybe in the future, we will look at more.

But for now: 

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