I'm writing headlines for a print ad where instead of a 4X4 waiting for a train at a crossing, the train is waiting for it with a boom in front of the train instead of the car. This is to show the toughness of the car and so I've written the following lines:

  • A Tough Act to Follow
  • Rule With an Iron Fist
  • Impossibly Tough
  • Red Lights - Not Included
  • Switch Up the Pecking Order
  • The Tough’s Gotten Going…
  • The Adventure Gets Right of Way
  • As Tough as You Think You Are
  • Convention-Defying Toughness
  • No Added Extras – Like Rules
  • Who Says You Can’t?
  • Never Say Never
  • You’re as Tough as You Feel
  • The Rules of the Wild Aren’t the Rules of the Road

It's not as though I'm having writers block as you can see and yet there's a value missing in these headlines that my headlines usually have and I'm not sure what's holding me back. If you have any technique you can suggest, please help. I'm not asking you to do my work, these headlines have been submitted for review but I would like to know what step I'm missing in my creative writing to add more 'ooomph' into my headlines. Thank you.

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    I think it would be helpful if you could articulate what the "value missing... that my headlines usually have" is. Are your other headlines wittier? Shorter and punchier? Funnier? (Even) more direct? Commented Jan 22, 2013 at 15:19

2 Answers 2


They may probably be just right for the target audience - if the target audience is the kind of people who would definitely use the toughness of the car in road traffic, and believe being stronger makes one right.

As for me, they are alliterating a crude message. No hint of subtlety, no wit, no distance to self, no humor. And this lack of distance talks to me as lack of confidence; either that's a really simple mind who doesn't get anything more subtle, or one who really needs to have their ego extended, and treats this all too seriously.

What I mean? Something more tongue-in-cheek.

"Can't get a tank? We have the next best thing." "They don't fear the law? they will fear your bumpers." "Background explosions not included" "The crumple zone is the other car"

I suggest you watch The Expendables 2 for entering the right frame of mind.

  • Yes, exactly. You need humor. You need something sly. I might even dare suggest a pun. Commented Jan 22, 2013 at 14:14
  • Hmm, I think it's quite a jump from "I want a tough car" to "I believe being stronger makes one right". Sounds like you have some kind of prejudice against people who own big trucks. Are you one of those wimpy Prius types or something? :-) I suppose a couple of these could be understood in terms of bullying other drivers, like "iron fist" and "red lights". But I think most of the target audience would understand them in terms of dominating difficult driving conditions -- rough roads, snow, etc -- rather than other drivers.
    – Jay
    Commented Jan 22, 2013 at 15:24
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    @Jay I don't think it's much of a jump at all, but you're right, there are two potential target markets: people who want a tough vehicle to dominate other drivers, and people who want a tough vehicle to dominate the elements. There is some overlap, but they aren't all the same customers. So the OP has to figure out which is the desired target market and aim the copy there. Commented Jan 22, 2013 at 15:40
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    Wow SF. Your answer was fantastic and thanks for such a bold response. Your example headlines you gave are excellent. I appreciate you advising that I make them more tongue-in-cheek but do you generally have a process you could share with me on making my headlines punchier? I mean, you wrote those up quickly and they were excellent. It takes me far too long to reach something like that. You'd be surprised how little there is on the web and it books the examples can often be outdated. I'd love to write headlines like yours all the time! Commented Jan 22, 2013 at 20:48
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    @WarrenvanRooyen: I don't know if it will work, because I don't really know if it was right for me. Don't be shy to read and watch pulp, B-class horrors and shallow action flicks, space cowboys and alien conspiracies. Don't be shy to enjoy it but take it for what it is, laugh at silly tropes being repeated, then recall what - despite being silly cliches - you enjoyed a lot. Name it, with its true, silly cliche names. Also, allow yourself at least once to be completely swallowed by the TVTropes page, let it pull you in for hours just like it tends to do.
    – SF.
    Commented Jan 22, 2013 at 23:53

A bit late I know, but the best I can think of is to componentize the ad. What elements are present that you can utilize to build an idea? There's the 4x4. A train. A level crossing. A boom. Train tracks.

The saying of stopping something in its tracks comes to mind. So how about: "The new Blah 4x4. Stop them in their tracks" or something alone those (railway) lines? This fits with the visuals but also projects an idea of respect or jealousy on the part of the onlooker. The boom becomes a cognitive metaphor for the train driver's desire for the 4x4 and suggests that other onlookers would do the same. And of course, because it's a big, hulking train that could actually crush a normal car, it must be the appearance of the car's toughness that did the actual stopping. And so on...

So, to answer the question, there's nothing wrong with your headlines; they just don't associate well into the visual elements of the situation. But I think the image presented is something of a brain teaser so I hope you came right in the end.

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