"Clickbait" is not quite spam, but isn't exactly respectable. It is the fast-lane impulse buy, the novelty candy sitting on the gas station counter, the tabloid with impossible headlines that pique your curiosity. In short, they are not the most annoying time-vampires on the Internet, but they are powerful challengers.
You've seen the headlines:
- Top Ten Conspiracies Hidden on the Dollar Bill
- 15 Celebrities Who Look Ugly Now That They're Older
- 3 Ways to Turn Old Coke Bottles Into Outdoor Furniture
You get the idea: things which are almost interesting...sort of. Face it, you're not convinced "annuit coeptis" is code for a plan to abolish good music, you don't even know who 7 of those 15 celebrities are, and if you were ever going to make a set of patio chairs with 3000 plastic 2-litre bottles, you would have done it by now.
You've probably taken the bait before. You might not even realize that you've fallen victim to this scourge of cyberspace marketing, thinking to yourself - "Not me. I'm too intelligent, suave, sophisticated, and good-looking to fall for such nonsense", but oh...you would be wrong.
1. You Want It
It's fast-food for the mind, a sugary soft drink for the intellect. It's a cartoon instead of a serious drama, a sitcom instead of the evening news. It takes your attention away from all of the big, scary, serious problems in the world. Why read horrible news about the state of the economy or the latest threat from extremists when you can indulge in glorious trivia about which past president of the United States was the most like you. It plays on your weaknesses, tickling the parts of your brain that give you an easy smile, a cheap laugh, or a false sense of narcissistic self-importance. It is self-indulgent, and why not? You've had a rough day, and deserve a little treat.
2. They're Good at It
Some people think that marketing is simply about demonstrating value, connecting you with people who need your products and services, and establishing and maintaining relationships. Well, sure, if you're a "good person", but why should you do the ethical, responsible thing when you can simply use cheap psychological tricks to trigger people's mental weaknesses and mess with their dopamine levels using carefully selected language? False promises, over-simplifications of complex ideas, and the glorification of the most meaningless possible topics are skills that are studied and practiced by a new breed of digital snake oil salesmen. No, these people don't ask you for your money. They ask for something that, in this day and age, is much, much more valuable, they want your ATTENTION.
3. You Don't Think About it, and you're Not Supposed To
We went from being a passive, television-watching audience to a more active, each-person-is-the-editor-of-his-own-news scenario with the internet. It's more interactive. It takes more effort, thought, decision-making, and work. Sometimes, we yearn to just shut off our brains and let the gentle flow of information wash over us. We want something easy - something we don't need to think about, and there are millions of people out there with blogs who are more than willing to give us exactly what we need.
4. You Just Clicked on Clickbait
Yes, that's right, and I'm not sorry, either. I've given you an easily digestible list, and made you do something you wouldn't have otherwise done, simply by selecting the right "magic words". My purpose was to instill an irresistible sense of curiosity which you couldn't escape from.
5. It's a Waste of Time
OK, this isn't a reason why you're wrong about being immune to it, but it is important, and this is the real reason I'm writing this post. Just like sugar slowly kills you and makes you sluggish, these kinds of cotton candy articles are stealing your life away, one click at a time. Is the author really qualified to tell you what the top 10 Pirate movies of all time are? Or, is it all just a bunch of meaningless drivel? The minutes will add up to hours. The hours will add up to days, the days to years, and you'll still slog through all of the slow-loading pages and annoying, flashing advertising, desperate to see what that next item on the list is, trying to make it all the way to at least number 7.
Don't say I didn't warn you!