June 13, 2018 By Zak Mehan
The loss of Anthony Bourdain has deeply touched people around the world, including, if you’ll excuse me getting personal for a moment, this author. Bourdain was an outspoken critic of social injustice and one of the best journalists working on television – a true original. He taught us about food, certainly, but more importantly, he taught us new ways of seeing the world. He will be sorely, sorely missed.
After the news broke on Friday there was an outpouring of grief. Countless headlines and tributes flooded social streams over the weekend, but we also got a glimpse into one of the darker sides of the 24-hour news cycle: clickbait.
Shortly after Bourdain’s death, the race to create SEO-optimized content began. Newsweek’s approach, which consisted of a lengthy series of “Who is” articles focused on Bourdain’s close family and friends, raised more than a few eyebrows.
It’s important to note that Newsweek is by no means the only media company racing for clicks in the wake of tragedy. In a digital landscape where much of the traffic to news outlets is generated by referrals from search or social media, publishers package their content in a way that they anticipate most users will be seeking out that information.
While some outlets are more aggressive in this practice than others, all major outlets present their stories in a way that is designed to capture the most traffic from outside sources.
But publishers and companies would do well to remember that, given all the high-profile conversations surrounding data, privacy, and how content makes its way from the source to our screens, people are becoming more and more cognizant of the tricks used to promote content. As the curtain is pulled back and users gain a deeper understanding of how these processes work, companies will likely face more and more scrutiny when it comes to all kinds of clickbait, tragedy included. We’re no strangers to editorial standards, but the time for search standards may be coming.
In a move that caused *quite* the stir on social media, IHOP announced last week that it was planning a rebrand and would be changing its name to….IHOb. After a week of letting speculation run wild (did the B stand for breakfast? Bacon? Maybe brunch?) the company finally broke its silence.
The B, it turns out, stands for burgers. You read that correctly, burgers. This revelation caused another flurry of tweets and some serious head scratching. Did you know that IHOP even serves burgers in the first place? I, for one, did not. The rebrand did not go unnoticed by other brands – Burger King, Denny’s, Wendy’s and even Netflix produced some A+ content trolling the announcement.
While IHOP/HOb’s move has received its fair share of ridicule, we should view this as part of an extremely effective marketing stunt. IHOP’s name is in the paper, the news is trending on Twitter, and the company even got many of its direct competitors tweeting about it. This kind of joke-that-doubles-as-marketing certainly isn’t a new approach – see Denny’s “accidental” share of a press release with tracked changes as another genius example – but it can be effective for brands looking to quickly generate buzz.
What do millennials like, anyways? Content producers and marketers have long struggled with the demographic. I get it, we’re tricky. We don’t like brand names, we’re apparently too lazy to eat cereal, and will never buy homes because we just can’t seem to stop buying avocados.
But at a recent Nielsen summit, executives from brands, publishers and non-profits discussed an approach to more effectively target content at millennials that just might do the trick: focusing on interests instead of traditional demographics. In the past, advertising demographics were traditionally broken down by age, gender, and location. But technology is opening up new possibilities that allow advertisers to consider more complex approaches to building target audiences, such as movies people like and hobbies.
In fact, Maya Peterson of Viacom cited a recent survey that found consumers are the least passionate about the qualities they’re born with. As more and more brands work to get their content in front of the right audience, non-traditional approaches to targeting will certainly become more and more important.
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Anthony Bourdain, the way he should be remembered.