I started writing this article. You’ll never guess what happened next!
The things I can do with an opinion column will astound you.
What I have to say will stop you in your tracks.
You WON’T BELIEVE how simple it is. It may just BLOW YOUR MIND.
Okay, it seems I’ve just used up my hyperbole allowance for the rest of the year. And I apologise for shouting at you with all those capital letters. It’s very un-newspaperly to write like that. It would have hurt the sub-editor at a very deep level to let them through.
It’s going to get worse though, because I’m writing about a very un-newspaperly topic.
Clickbait headlines are the current weapon of choice in an internet battle that’s being waged to attract the most page views via social media. You’ll be browsing Facebook, just minding your own friends’ business, when you get drawn into a pointless Buzzfeed article or an emotive Upworthy video. All because of that intriguing, irritating headline. Here are some I’ve seen this week.
“What This Guy Can Do With Cardboard Is Absolutely Mindblowing.”
“An 8 Year Old Just Left Me Speechless With His Outlook On A Tragic Situation.”
Welcome to the new world of headline theory, where everything is awesome, astounding, heart-breaking and super freaking urgent.
“These Baby Elephants Play Soccer By Their Own Rules … And It’s 100% Awesome.”
“14 Facts That Will Make You Want To Grab A Beer Right Now.”
“Something Happened 28 Years Ago, And It’s Making Spiderwebs, Birds, And ‘Shrooms Go BERSERK.”
Beserk mushrooms? To be honest, I’m getting a bit bored with it all. It was a good trick the first few times but there are only so many times I can have my mind blown. They’re wearing out all of the superlatives.
Principle innovators in this new turbo-charged era of clickbaiting are the headline writers at Upworthy.com. Launched in 2012, Upworthy take video content from around the web and re-post it under their own banner.
Upworthy succeed because they put so much effort into their headlines. They write at least 25 different options for each headline, then four of those are shortlisted and market-tested before the final version is chosen.
Their stated goal is to create what they call a ‘curiosity gap’. Where traditional headlines try to sum up the story as succinctly as possible, Upworthy’s headlines are more like: “OMG you’ll never guess what!”
They will happily over-promise to generate your curiosity. Or channel the voice of a teenage girl.
“She Takes Everything You Think You Know About Her Sex Life. And Shuts. It. Down.”
So-called ‘proper’ newspapers are largely keeping clear of this approach. But the clickbait is spreading. It’s probably only a matter of time.
In fact, I’ve already taken the initiative by rewriting some of this week’s Bay of Plenty Times headlines.
“You’ll Never Guess How Many People Are Hiding Their Criminal Past. Legally.”
“A Woman And 2 Children Woke To A House Filled With Smoke. What They Did Next Saved Their Lives.”
“And You Thought Knitting Was Boring. Here’s Why You’re Wrong.”
You’ve got to hand it to Upworthy. This style of headline makes you want to know more, hence all the imitators. I actually rather like Upworthy. The content they post reflects a genuine desire to canvas worthy causes. It’s not their fault that every other website is also trying to: Blow. Your. Mind.
But where it’s all headed bothers me. I’m not sure we’ll actually like what happens next.
First published in Bay of Plenty Times 27 June 2014. You won’t believe how it was reproduced with permission!
For the most supreme clickbait satire ever see The Onion’s Clickhole.