Ok, I will make this one short. There was a time, not so many years ago, that people made informed decisions based on several credible sources. They would read books, magazines, newspapers, and way the pros and cons of their decision. Those days are long gone. Today, people certainly do research, and check multiple sources., But the majority only reads headlines (and conclusions if we’re lucky), before making a decision; whether it’s who to vote for, where to go or what to buy. The world seems to have gone completely tabloid. It is not just in the US, where politicians like Trump and Sanders (in completely different ways) are adapting to this trend. it’s happening all around the globe. Well thought-out solutions seem to drown in the bid to shout the loudest or make the most populist tweet. It’s happening in Europe, in Asia and in Australia as well. And, unfortunately, it’s spilling into brand marketing.
Since there is so much information out there, our brains cannot seem to process it all. So our brain simplifies. We pick up headlines, we focus on keywords and we look at photos, GIFs and short videos. There’s nothing wrong with that, we’re programmed to eliminate unnecessary information in order to make quicker decisions. Ad agencies have know this for a long time, and we’ve over the years moved away from long copy ads to shorter, punchier and (sometimes) funnier ads. With the advent of internet, the media outlets caught on, and we have seen a movement towards shorter and punchier headlines and articles in online media.This again has led to a lot of click-baiting, using engaging headlines to grab people’s attention.
But what happens when there is discrepancy between a snappy title and the actual content? What happens when we as society don’t read the real story, but only get the headline, and perhaps the opening and ending paragraph in an article or content piece? Well, we all know what happens. Look at political campaigns these days, whether it’s debating Brexit in the UK, the general election in Australia, the presidential election in the US or in pretty much any other market. Facts don’t come into play anymore. People are only interested in the headlines, and since media is driven by ad revenue, which is fuelled by clicks – we see more and more click-bating, and less and less facts. Which keeps accelerating the TL;DR (Too Long; Didn’t Read) attitude.
So how does this impact brands? Well, it’s tempting to adopt some of the tactics of click-bating. The idea is that if we can only get the readers to click, then we can serve them the actual message. But unfortunately, it’s not that simple. As brands and companies, we don’t live or die by clicks, we live and die by revenue or ROI. It doesn’t matter if thousands of people click on your offer, if they end up not buying. We shouldn’t care if people read the content, if their perception of the brand is “cheaters”. It’s far better to be real from the beginning. In fact, in the TL;DR age, the only remedy is honesty and accountability. The model should always be creating real engagement for the category, the product or the brand, with a long-term focus. Be short and snappy, for sure, but do it in an engaging and truthful way. In the end, we all win that way.
(TL;DR version: The world is getting more tabloid, but resist the urge to join in. Be real and truthful – in an engaging, funny and/or interesting way.)
[Main photo by lissa.anglin, under CC]
Erik Ingvoldstad is the Managing Director of Acoustic.
Follow Erik on Twitter @ingvoldSTAR, follow Acoustic at @AcousticAgency
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