By Leigh Oxley, HugABull Volunteer and Online Marketing Professional
I have good and bad news for you.
The good: there really isn’t anything about kittens that will make you shake with fear, unless you have a severe case of ailurophobia.
The bad: you just fell for the oldest trick in the book.
This blog post has absolutely nothing to do with kittens (I’m sorry!), but it will get lots of traffic and views – possibly more than many of our other posts. You might be wondering how I can say that with any level of confidence, while I’m still writing the first 100 words… well, it’s all about marketing.
For the last 8+ years, I’ve been working in the digital marketing industry. I spend my days talking to marketers and marketing leaders about what drives their business, what generates revenue, and how they measure success. For today’s “modern marketer”, more traffic and page views means more success; they’ve all got the same business objectives: to increase reach while decreasing resources (time, money, effort, etc.). They need to get their message in front of as many people as possible in order for it to be effective.
Enter the concept of clickbait.
Clickbait is an attention-grabbing, emotion-inciting piece of content that helps to drive traffic to a particular web page, aimed to drive online advertising revenue. By using a sensationalistic line of text or imagery to encourage visitors to click a link, businesses can drive more site traffic; when there’s more traffic to a page, more can be charged for online ad space.
Think of television commericals as an example. National networks charge considerably more for commercials aired during Superbowl, compared to commercials which run during regular day-to-day shows. In 2011, a 30-second Superbowl spot cost $3.5 million on average, while the same commercial during the weekly American Idol airing that year ran about $450,000. To have your commercial run during Superbowl, when hundreds of millions of people will see it is more valuable than airing it during American Idol, which has only 20-30 million viewers per week.
Alright – marketing, clickbait, Superbowl… I thought I came to the HugABull blog to read about kittens?! So how does this all tie back to the dogs, which is why we’re all really here? Well, let’s start by replacing kittens with “pitbulls”. There’s a sad but true editorial cartoon from GameDog Guardian that highlights the issue at hand, and it’s very much like Superbowl commercials. The words “pit” and “bull” together in a media post grab attention and incite emotion – it’s textbook clickbait. So when an online media organization needs to drive more traffic to their site, they want to increase readership and charge more for ad space, they need to run stories that get attention. Pitbull stories do just that.
So what do we recommend? Ignore it. As tempting as it is to click through, comment, share, and vote on polls, it only hurts the cause overall, because it shows the media sites that pit bull stories really do work, they really do generate more visitors, and you can make more money if you keep running them. If we stop feeding the beast, it will look elsewhere. Remember when you were a kid, and your mom gave you some sage advice about the schoolyard bully? “Just ignore him and he’ll go away – he’s just looking for attention.”
Bored? Check out this fun clickbait generator to see how it works.
Also, because we feel bad for our foray into yellow journalism, here are some kittens to look at.