Clickbait comes in many shapes and sizes, but most of the content follows the same formula: Pair a psychologically alluring idea with an image and a cliffhanger statement, then tie it algorithmically to content users are already consuming. It's a winning approach for companies looking to monetize websites everywhere, from USA Today to The Guardian.
ChangeAdvertising.org released a report late last year stating that, “Of the Top 50 News Sites, 41 employ 'content ads,’ and that more than a quarter of the links for those ads led to what the report defined as clickbait sites. These ads are placed by "content discovery" companies who either pay the host publisher a portion of what's paid out by advertisers or send traffic bad to that site. It's been estimated this is a multi-billion-dollar slice of the online advertising business.
Yet for the majority of people drawn in to click, surefire disappointment follows. After all, says consumer psychologist Philip Graves, "it's a means to the end — but not the one you necessarily hoped it would be.” So why do so many of us keep clicking? We talked to a host of psychologists and advertising specialists to come up with an answer. Here, we look at our susceptibility to voyeurism and nostalgia — and why so many of us are so desperate to find out what Ross from "Friends" has been up to.
Why We Click, Part 4: Voyeurism and Nostalgia
Whatever did happen to that little boy from Webster? What does Lindsay Lohan look like before her plastic surgery? Which celebrities from a decade ago now have normal jobs? What is the possible value brought to a person's life when he or she finds an answer to any of these questions? On account of the target audience, if the click through delivers on just a bit of the promise, the answer may be that there is quite a fair bit of value attained
Philip Graves, marketing psychologist and author of Consumerology, says that "our mind has rich associations with the characters, with the experiences of the story." We are primed to click on news of celebrities because, in a sense, we have a history with them, we grew up with them, we identify the characters they played with segments of our own lives." He says that the associations we have with those characters cause news of these celebrities to spark a chord of meaning in us unconsciously. In other words, prime clickbait material.
George Loewenstein, professor of economics and psychology, and director of the Center for Behavioral Research at Carnegie Mellon University, wrote an article in 1994 on the nature of curiosity called The Psychology of Curiosity, upon which much of marketing theory is built. In it, he says an "exposure to a sequence of events with an anticipated but unknown resolution will almost inevitably create curiosity to know the outcome."
We know Lindsay Lohan was the darling poster child for Disney vehicles throughout the '90s. And that she struggled with drug and alcohol abuse. There are enough examples of what happens when celebrities succumb to substance abuse to theorize what would eventually become of Lohan, but that's nowhere near a foregone conclusion. Do you know that what you thought would happen did happen to her? Do you want to? Of course you do, click here and find out.