James Bond: Superman Henry Cavill on replacing Daniel Craig as 007 “Very, very exciting”
Phil: This headline popped up on my tablet a couple of days ago. From it, you might conclude that Henry Cavill has bagged the job as the next 007. You might be surprised, having read that Tom Hardy was already lined up for the role a couple of days earlier.
What has happened?
Basically, the newspaper who “wrote” the Cavill story has turned an old quote saying he would like the role, and was the second choice to Daniel Craig*, into some words online. What they want is for you to click through and read.
The title is “clickbait”.
Clickbait: content whose main purpose is to attract attention and encourage visitors to click on a link to a particular web page.
OK, so you might not think this matters. It’s only an entertainment story, and since you know it’s going to take you to the Daily Express, not likely to be something of great importance.
Why do they want your visit?
Advertising. Land on their page and you’ll find loads of ads as well as more clickbait headlines to try to keep you on the site. Your visit will also raise their traffic levels, making the page more appealing to advertisers.
In publishing, this is called “reach” and it’s valuable. Very valuable indeed. Greater reach means you can charge more for adverts. It creates greater demand for your ad space. Sometimes it’s as valuable as actual sales.
Which is why media outlets look for people with headline writing skills. Yes, there will be a story of sorts behind the headline, but it’s all about the clicks, Don’t get me wrong, writing lots of clickbait headlines is a serious skill. Short, snappy and containing what the marketing world terms “a call to action”. If you can churn out a few dozen of these a day, stick it on your CV, it’s a saleable skill.
Does this matter? I think it does. At the moment, every news outlet is vying for your eyeballs and the best way to do that is shout the scariest news imaginable. Bad news sells, it always has done, and the worse it is, the better the “sales”.
In the middle of a pandemic, you’d like to think accurate information would be easy to find, but what we are served with are ever more apocalyptic headlines. Whichever numbers look worst, those are the ones we are told are most important and the figures are then twisted to suit the narrative. And those headlines keep coming. Endlessly.
As I write, more people die each day in the UK from suicide than Covid. Does this get reported? Of course not, because then someone might suggest that the endless stream of bad news is killing people.
Clickbait is deadly.
*Humourous book note: In our first novel, Dave is compared favourably to Daniel Craig emerging from the sea in a Bond film. I did not write that bit. I might have suggested we didn’t need quite so much detail in the description.