This Marketer Read a CNN Headline, and You Won’t Believe Her Reaction

If you work in marketing, chances are you’re immersed in at least one social network. While scrolling through your timeline or newsfeed, you’ve probably come across a quintessentially titled Upworthy article. Others have tried to copy Upworthy’s headline styles, to greater or lesser success. Some sources, however, really ought to stay away from the style.

For those who aren’t familiar, Upworthy is a site that posts inspirational videos and articles with cryptic yet endearing headlines likened to local TV news commercials (“Will the dinner you’re eating right now kill you? Find out at 11!”). One such example is the post A Little Girl Who Isn’t Allowed To Play Outside, And The Startling Reason Why. These headlines are obvious calls-to-action because they leave the audiences wanting to know more.

For Upworthy, it’s a brilliant way to draw attention to their content. But for reputable news outlets, it can come off as, well, a little deceitful. For example, Buzzfeed recently shared a piece about people’s appalled reactions to CNN’s attempt at an Upworthy-esque headline — and rightfully so!

As a general rule, news outlets are supposed to be as unbiased as humanly possible. Headlines that try to unearth a specific reaction do nothing but show that the reporter has an opinion on this story. CNN isn’t a forum to express one’s opinion; it’s a place to report on current events.

It also doesn’t help that CNN exploited a deplorable crime to get more web traffic. It’s disrespectful to the victims, to their families and to the readers who want nothing but the facts — not to mention the right to formulate their own opinion.

Getting your audience’s attention is challenging — and yes, media oversaturation is making it more difficult every day. Here are some resourceful ways to do this without looking foolish:

Don’t be a Copy Cat

I’ve said it once and I’ll say it again: You can’t replicate a company’s success by copying their marketing strategy. You may have the same audience as a competitor, but their brand is all their own — the themes, imagery, logos, everything! Old Spice is weird as hell and they’ve made that perfectly clear. That’s their shtick and it’s what has made them so successful.

After the success of Old Spice’s 2010 YouTube campaigns, companies like Edge and Dairy Queen made it blatantly obvious to everyone that they were trying to match Old Spice’s success. Although these companies are successful, they are perceived as a company desperate for revenue.

Come Up with an Appropriate Title

Besides CNN’s aforementioned headline being terribly inappropriate, it doesn’t match the tone of the story. The headline gives the impression that the article would be outrageous, shocking or unbelievable. The headline left it up to the audience to guess what had really happened: Was it self-defense? Was it an accident?

In opposition to the expectations raised by the headline, the article told the story of a family afflicted by tragedy. Was it shocking? By all means, yes; any tragedy is! But it wasn’t any more unusual or shocking than any other incidences of this type. CNN tried to make the story seeming remarkable or jaw-dropping, when in reality, it was just sad.

The point is that if you create an outrageous or extraordinary headline and the story itself doesn’t match the extravagance or splendor the headline promises, you’re going to leave your readers confused and frustrated.

Find your Audience. You Have the Tools!

In this day and age, there are a seemingly infinite number of tools available to help marketers find their target audiences. Tools like SocialBro, Buffer, HootSuite and Google Analytics are all fantastic and relatively affordable (or free) tools that help analyze the performance of past campaigns. If you have it in your budget, Cision and Hitwise are in-depth tools that help to find the right audience and placement for your content.

Creating a fantastic piece of content isn’t easy — and promoting that piece is even more difficult. Most marketers understand this road block, but this common understanding doesn’t justify essentially lying to an audience. Catchy yet deceptive headlines may work for now, but they can damage your brand in the long run. IF audiences are repeatedly subjected to this bait-and-switch tactic, they will eventually decide that you aren’t so credible after all.

In a digital world filled with misinformation, it no longer pays to stretch the truth — especially for journalists. Being direct and truthful is the key to success.

Image Source: Flickr