Lately I’ve been trying to explain to uncomprehending faces how the most powerful opening lines are never questions, but statements that trigger more questions than they answer.
I am certain those uncomprehending faces are my fault. I fear the idea I am attempting to teach may be bigger than the teacher trying to explain it. But I am going to do my best today – one more time – to make it as clear as I can:
- The job of the opening line is to create reader, listener, or viewer engagement.
- If the opening line doesn’t do it’s job you risk becoming invisible.
- When your customer turns their attention away from you, you cease to exist.
The most famous opening line in literature is, “Call me Ishmael.” It is a simple 3-word statement, but it triggers the following questions:
“Is your name not Ishmael?”
“Why are you unwilling to tell us your real name?”
“And why did you choose the name ‘Ishmael’.”
“Are you hiding from someone?”
And if so, why?”
The face on the billboard at the top of this page is a close friend of mine. The billboard contains no company name, no logo, no domain name, and no telephone number. There is no clue that might allow the reader to discover the answers to the questions that swirl in their mind:
“Who is Elmer?”
“Why is he coming”
“And what will he do when he gets here?”
“He looks Hispanic. Did su madre really name him Elmer?”
As an ad, that billboard is woefully incomplete. In fact, every dilettante in advertising will take great joy in pointing out that “only a moron” would put up such a billboard. It will be the talk of the town.
“What a stupid billboard! It doesn’t have a call-to-action and it doesn’t have a logo!”
But those billboards are only the opening salvo of an ad campaign that will continue for decades.
After 4 weeks, when the city is buzzing with “Who is Elmer?” my friend will introduce himself on the radio and share who he is, where he came from, and what he hopes to do. Everyone who hears those ads will be anxious to tell their friends all about Elmer.
What I am describing is not a “unique selling proposition.” It is simply a literary device, an artifact of truth upon which we can build a captivating ad and launch an ad campaign.
You don’t get a second chance to make a good first impression.
Both of the examples I gave you were just three words. Are you willing to try your hand at writing a 3-word statement that triggers more questions than it answers?
I am not talking about a 3-word caption that needs to be accompanied by an image. “Elmer is Coming” works its magic even without a picture. Likewise, “Call me Ishmael.”
If you can write a 3-word statement that triggers more questions than it answers and causes Indy Beagle and me to want to know more, Indy will publish your name in next week’s rabbit hole.
Send your three words to firstname.lastname@example.org before midnight Saturday, February 4th.
If you see your name in the rabbit hole the following Monday, that means you got an A+.
Roy H. Williams