The “Once Upon a Time” Of Your Customer’s Journey: Paid Ad Headlines

Have you ever stopped to think about why fairy tales settled on starting with “Once upon a time” or some variation of that opener? The phrase is a subtly important one and has been used in folklore and fairy tale across languages and cultures all around the world.  


The exact quote, “Once Upon a Time” was made popular by the Brothers Grimm, but it has deep roots in storytelling as a function. There are a couple of key components at work here that we can use to help understand and elevate our own headline copy for paid advertising.  

So what makes that particular opener important?

  • It emphasizes a journey or transformation: Once Upon A Time things used to be like this
  • It emphasizes that time has passed: An old story worth retelling implies wisdom in the tale

This deep dive into this phrase is all to say, Once Upon a Time you could get away with lazy headlines…not anymore.

The New Yorker emphasizes the psychology of the headline, whether it be in an ad or an article, as a vital first impression for framing the reader’s mindset. That’s especially important nowadays. There have been a few studies that have concluded we process 34GB of information on a daily basis, way up since our parent’s age, and that number is increasing as new technology makes media more accessible. This adds up to an absolute necessity to cut through the noise and rock your headlines.

Let’s take a look at different ways headlines are used in Google search ad copy, including some of the best examples out there.

Keyword Headline

The old way of writing headlines was to make the headline the keyword the person was searching for…lawyers love this one…the person looks for “florida accident attorney” and sees the following…


Ever see a string of 3 ads with the same headlines?  There’s room to be more creative here.

DKI Headline

DKI stands for ‘Dynamic Keyword Insertion’ and is a tool used to insert whatever the searcher types as a keyword in the headline, essentially making it a Keyword Headline like above.  Below is what it looks like set up as a Google AdWords ad…



This is a great way to start to speak directly to the prospect in a slightly more meaningful way. You can feel the difference in this headline, especially if you’re a prospect is looking for your services. Asking a question also qualifies the traffic to make sure the your service is a good fit… 



Be painfully specific, it catches the eye and makes the reader feel like you’re telling the truth (also, tell the truth)… 


Pain Points

Speak directly to the prospect’s pain points, as if to say that your service will be the thing solving it… 


Hopes & Dreams

Speak to the prospect’s hopes & dreams, speak to their transformation.  This one is a lot like the fairy tale opening except it highlights what the end result will be, not what is… 


Preemptively Overcome Objections

Know the the most common objections a potential client has?  Address them up front… 



Give something away right off the bat… 



Have you seen a competitor ad directly competing with yours that promotes a 250 unit minimum order?  Undercut the competition with your ads… 


Go Negative

Negativity is usually a no no in ads because it ties a negative emotion to your brand or service. In some cases though it can work… 


Appeal To Deserving

This one is a lot like the last one but appeals not to the pain, but the empowerment…


Keep It Simple

This article merely scratches the surface of what is possible with headlines creatively and by now you are probably teeming with the possibilities of different angles you want to try. A word to the wise, keep it simple. Start with the easiest, most accessible headline you can think of to gain some data as a baseline. After you have settled on something that works get creative.

Need help getting the creative juices flowing?  Tuff is a digital agency specializing in the customer journey from start to finish. Whether it’s a copy audit or account management, we can help.


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