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Is it curtains for clickbait?

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by Ellis Fergar
on

Mention clickbait around marketers and you’ll quickly be overwhelmed with opinions. Infamously pioneered by the likes of Buzzfeed and Upworthy, producing hyperbolic, misleading, or outright false content for clicks is highly contentious. At first glance it’s extremely effective, and so integrity often goes out the window in favour of short-term reach. But is it worth it? With brand loyalty at a premium, it might be time we left the bait behind…

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The clickbait conundrum

Clickbait works on the proviso that every click and visitor is valuable, which from an online advertising perspective makes complete sense. More clicks equal more ad views, and more ad views means more profit. It’s a simple concept.

With sites like Buzzfeed reporting 9 billion monthly content views, it’s unsurprising others have been so keen to emulate their success. Try as they might to deny it, these clickbait connoisseurs have made an artform of mass-produced, unabashedly addictive content.

The issue is that this short-term, numbers-driven approach has come to dominate our understanding of what makes good content in general. An article with more views is seen as objectively better than one with fewer — a sad reflection of marketing gone awry.

The sensible among us know it isn’t quite so straightforward. If your stock-in-trade is pay-per-click then maximised viewership is a no-brainer, but what does it mean for advertisers? With clickbait’s association with poor quality content and scams, it can wreak havoc on brand identity.

In our ‘post truth’ era, misleading content is increasingly coming under fire. With social media giants like Facebook scrambling to crack down on ‘fake news’, it’s vital that brands and advertisers avoid being caught in the storm.

As of August 2019, CMOs report that they spend only 31.5% of their time ‘preparing for the future’, and the rest ‘focusing on the present’. In effect, the guaranteed and immediate returns of clickbait have come to outweigh long-term, messaging focused marketing strategy.

Driving traffic is undeniably important, but views become irrelevant if audiences aren’t effectively engaged. Worse still, failing to deliver content that matches clickbait-fuelled expectations is a sure-fire way to lose both interest and goodwill.

As marketers and professionals, we can do better.

So, what needs to change?

It is important to make the distinction between clickbait and genuinely compelling content. Avoiding disingenuous claims and hyperbole while still capturing the attention of an audience is a time-honoured skill. And as always, practice pays off.

Developing an understanding of what an audience wants is the first step. Genuine interests, behaviours, needs, desires — all criteria which can inform content that naturally piques curiosity. It also helps to add cohesion to overall messaging.

With an ever-increasing number of channels, and rapidly shrinking time to engage audiences as a result, the importance of strong messaging has never been greater. As it stands, long-term content marketing strategy is key in the post-clickbait landscape.

From an analytics perspective, focus must shift from views and clicks to time and attentiveness. Engagement is the name of the game going forward, with content that captivates tantamount to success. Especially if it factors into a well thought out plan of action.

Brands are built on their hard-won reputations, as well as narratives which emphasise their goals and values. Where clickbait has done much to erode the faith of audiences, there is now room to rebuild with quality copy, design, and innovation.

From engaging articles and clever ads, to entirely new mediums like VR, the potential now exists to deliver fresh and exciting content. Content which no longer relies on the crutches of clickbait or dishonesty.

Our mission here at Luxus is to help global brands get more from their digital marketing. From planning long-term strategy, to development and implementation, we’re here to lend our expertise.