Is Clickbait Fundraising Evil? The Answer May Shock You!
Actually, I'd never heard about clickbait until people started complaining about it. It'll be the ruination of journalism, they said … misleading and manipulative … shallow and shameful...
The assault was relentless. If it's possible to have compassion for a copywriting technique, that's what I was feeling for clickbait.
So, here I am, standing up for the underdog. Clickbait, as you know, is a way of writing headlines and subject lines that uses unexpected or ironic juxtapositions to get your attention and compel you to click on the article (or open the envelope) to learn more.
There are many clickbait formulas. The headline above is one kind: Ask a question that connects things that don't normally go together … like clickbait and fundraising. Then offer a nonanswer that implies the reader is in for a big surprise.
Another is to make a fairly banal statement, then undermine it with a second shorter sentence: The night was calm and still. Or was it? You can also summarize a story, then tease the reader to find out more: A Woman Brought a Bucket of Paint to an African Village. You Won't Believe What Happened Next.
You get the idea. There are a million variations.
From a fundraising standpoint, it seems to me like nothing more than a way to write better teasers. As copywriters in the nonprofit world, we're always looking for more effective ways to get attention so we can deliver an emotional message and persuade a donor or prospect to give.
But while the clickbait style has positive potential, it also has a lot of haters. They point to sleazy advertisers that use it to mislead consumers with photos of an attractive person with a headline like, "New sleeping pill is taking CVS by storm."
I'm pretty sure the nice lady in the picture has little to do with either CVS or some new sleeping pill. This is a classic bait-and-switch, and it's no wonder people have issues with it.
Willis Turner believes great writing has the power to change minds, save lives, and make people want to dance and sing. Willis is the creative director at Huntsinger & Jeffer. He worked as a lead writer and creative director in the traditional advertising world for more than 15 years before making the switch to fundraising 20 years ago. In his work with nonprofit organizations and associations, he has written thousands of appeals, renewals and acquisition communications for every medium. He creates direct-response campaigns, and collateral communications materials that get attention, tell powerful stories and persuade people to take action or make a donation.