Wednesday, June 19, 2013

10 Outrageous Headlines That Will Grab Your Attention

Sorry to be misleading, but I don't have a list of items for you. I generally find those articles annoying, but at least I get it. There are two simple reasons why those sites use such shallow tactics: because they work, and because they have to.

I occasionally read articles from Cracked, and I mistakenly clicked on a link that lead me to Buzzfeed one time, so I've at least been introduced to this particular brand of mass media. These sites and similar ones are pretty popular, but some people really dislike the format they use, and I can understand why. While there is sometimes genuinely enjoyable content to be found, it's all rehashed and compressed into a crude condensed form intended to appeal to some mass audience by way of lowest common denominator. It's like being offered a slice of cake that has been pre-chewed for you. There might still be something tasty inside, but it's pretty unappetizing.

This is a picture of a kitten wearing a silly hat. It is not a shameless attempt to make you click on a link to my blog.

The big flashy titles full of buzzwords seem pretty stupid, don't they? 11 Shocking Celebrity Nip Slips, 13 Ways The Government Invades Your Privacy Every Day, 20 Top-Selling Pop Songs Of All Time, 21 Adorable Baby Animals Wearing Hats, 14 Super-Foods That Help You Lose Weight Fast, 6 Easy Tips To Improve Your Gas Mileage, 8 Simple Rules For Dating My Teenage Daughter, or 1 Terrible Idea For A Blog Post That Will Draw Spambots Like The Pied Piper Draws Mice. You get the idea.

So, why do they do it? As I said at the start, there are two main reasons I can see:

First, these tactics work. Buzzwords, popular stories and celebrity names, and overt dramatization (especially of trivial things) make the average (or below average) Internet user more likely to click on a link to the article. It doesn't matter if it's out of genuine interest or morbid curiosity; a click is a click. Obviously the content of the article has to be interesting to hold their attention for any span of time, but even just getting them to take a look benefits the site.

Of course, that's just to hook you in. The strategy continues with the format itself, utilizing numbered lists, keeping the article as brief as possible, or even just posting a picture slideshow and not bothering with a text article at all. Some people, such as those who like curling up with a good book, reading the newspaper at breakfast, or breathing with their mouth closed, wouldn't see the appeal of serialized mini-articles like these, but that's not who they're trying to appeal to.

There's a ton of demand for easy-to-consume media. Sometimes people just want something to look at while they ride the bus, or to kill a few minutes on a slow morning at work, stuck in traffic, on a lousy blind date, at a boring family get-together, or locked in a police interrogation room. They don't have the time or energy to invest in lengthy stories or editorials, or else they just don't have the attention span, so they go for the quick fix instead. There's no more shame in that than there is in eating fast food, or purchasing sexual favors from a cocaine-addicted prostitute. It's fast and cheap, and it gets the job done.

Second, these tactics are unfortunately necessary for these sites to succeed. In case you hadn't noticed, there are more entertainment, news, comedy, and general content aggregate sites on the Internet than you could possibly read. There are enough comedic and editorial publishing platforms alone out there to completely occupy Sisyphus' time at his job. The thing is, most of them are very short-lived. Internet users know they can get that content pretty much anywhere, so it's hard for any given site to establish themselves well enough to stay in business for long.

This is nothing new, of course. The same problems plagued newspapers and magazines, radio and television. Being a great writer doesn't ensure you'll be a successful one, and having a team of great writers doesn't ensure you'll have a successful publication. Even with aggressive viral marketing and search-optimized content, some of these sites still struggle to compete. As much as I'd love it if every Internet publication would just simplify their strategy to "Publish Good Writers," they won't make money that way. Without money, they can't pay their writers and staff, they can't keep their web servers running, they can't pay their cocaine-addicted prostitutes, and they consequently can't keep publishing.

So, if you're not a fan of the bite-sized form-compressed entertainment nuggets produced by over-marketed mass media outlets of the Internet, you're certainly not alone, but a lot of people do enjoy the content they provide, and the publishers will always give the people what they want, just as long as they think there's money in it.

Maybe someday, if the entire planet is suddenly overcome by mass hypnosis that convinces us all that drama is pointless, kittens are nothing special, and we're not fascinated by Donald Trump or Justin Bieber, maybe then the Buzzfeeds of the world will shut down, and the people will all consume media built from hard work, thorough research, and unbridled creativity. Until then, let them eat cake. Nutritionless, colon-clogging, pre-masticated cake.

Peace and love, readers, and may you always stay regular.

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