The art of overpromising has completely taken over the internet

Are you prone to promise more than you can deliver?

By Frankly

5 min. reading time

Several clickbaity headlines crowding the screen

Traditional business wisdom says that you should under-promise and over-deliver. But in a crowded online marketplace, under-promising seems like a gateway to oblivion.


No matter how smart, slick and independent we humans see ourselves, at the end of the day, we are simple creatures. Emotional creatures. We want to eat, sleep and be loved. We want to belong. We want meaning. We are curious creatures. Like small fish in a pond, we’ll take the bait if it’s right in front of us.


As a marketer, if you want people to care about what you’re trying to tell them, you need to promise to fulfil these fundamental desires. This particular strategy to acquire attention even has a name: Clickbait. Clickbait consists of attention-grabbing wording deliberately used to lure readers into clicking. The term itself has a negative aura associated with it. It has been widely criticised as a questionable practice where overpromising titles are deliberately set to cover up underwhelming content. In some cases, it even spreads false or misleading information.

“They Laughed When I Sat Down at The Piano – But Then I Started to Play!”

John Caples wrote this masterpiece a century ago, in 1927. It’s the premier example of how to sell to people by tapping into their emotional desires; their inherent curiosity towards “what comes next”. Curiosity forces us to explore. Without it, humanity would be stuck in the same primal way of life we began.


There is a thing in marketing known as the curiosity gap, and it’s the main reason clickbait works. The curiosity gap is the space between what we know, want or need to know. But why is it so effective – in fact, so effective it can lead to over a 900% increase in clicks? The curiosity gap creates a hole in the knowledge that the readers need to fill. It drives a desire in them to want to learn more.


But here’s the reality: In an (over-)crowded marketplace, the competitive rhetoric is becoming increasingly fierce. While healthy competition sparks creativity and innovation, excessive competition can be a counter-productive bastard and potentially breed a somewhat destructive environment. It makes marketers exploit that desire. And far from always in a sophisticated way.


Above all …


Marketing is a contest for people’s attention. And with a marketing landscape more cutthroat than ever, clickbait – items with overpromising titles – is an easy way to try to stand out amidst the competition.


Why do you see yourself being absorbed into the over-promise/under-delivery vortex? Why do you set expectations too high only to fall short of delivering on your promise? Maybe you don’t feel confident that you’ve added real value to your content. Perhaps because of that simple explanation that clickbait has become the norm. A trend. Seemingly the right thing to do.


If you’re employing over-promising clickbaits in your work, chances are, you’re doing it to gain a high number of pageviews. But… Clicks aren’t valid measurements of success. For various reasons. The concept of clickthrough was crafted back in the 90s. Back then, sure, it was a great way to measure interactions. But today, a few decades later, it’s no longer the fashion. But many marketers are clinging to the system.


The thing is, over-promising is a great way of setting readers up for disappointment. Promises attract people, but promising too much can destroy your reputation in the long run. Long-term credibility and delivering on promises are vital to gaining and withholding a loyal reader. So, to sustain credibility, you must curb the tendency to over-promise.


Clickbait CAN be clever. It CAN be sophisticated. When used carefully and with good intentions, it can be an effective marketing tool if the content follows through and delivers a high-quality message.



Sources: Entrepreneur.comNeilpatel.comLynda.comThe QuadPiccanaLushCopyhackersEveryday Psych and Digital Doughnut

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