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Distraught Woman in Courtroom

It's happened to you, hasn't it?  You were scrolling on Facebook for who-knows-what reason when a picture caught your eye.  The title made some benign and fairly uninteresting statement but followed it up with a zinger like "you won't believe what happened next" or "number three will shock you!"  You couldn't resist.  You had to accept the challenge.  I mean, either you would get to prove the title wrong or you would infact be shocked.  Either way, it was going to be pretty awesome right?  More times than not, though, number three was not very shocking, you could believe what happened next and you were left feeling underwhelmed.  ... what happen next?

What Happened First?

Before we look at what happened next, let's look at what happened first.  Why do we even click on such articles when we know that disappointment is all that awaits us?  It's the power of a provocative statement.  These zingers raise our expectations.  Even if we think that we will "believe what happened next" we expect it to be pretty amazing.  We even expect it to be unbelievable ... to average people ... just not people as experienced as ourselves.  See that!?  The title raised our expectations of the article as well as made us feel good about ourselves!  (Oooo, they are good.)

So, we click on the link, send another impression to BuzzFeed (or whomever) and take a look at the article, list, video or whatever.

What Happens Next?

Once we are done reading (AKA: skimming) or watching (AKA: skipping ahead) we feel underwhelmed and can barely remember what was supposed to shock us to begin with.  This is not a good feeling.  We've got a couple of choices here.  We can:

  1. Admit to ourselves that we fell for the gimmick.
  2. Hold out hope that even though this didn't impress us, it will impress our friends ... you know, the average people.

If we go with Option 1, we store it away with the rest of life's small disappointments and regrets and soon forget that it ever occurred (until we fall for it again).  If we go with Option 2, we share it with or talk about it to someone else and gage the reaction.  This can be a vicious cycle.

Does This Actually Work?

So, does this stuff actually work?  Is this good advertising?  Well, yes and no.  Yes, it works for some people for a while.  No, it's not good advertising even if it does work for a time.

If you sell ads on your site and charge sponsors per impression, then you don't really care who comes to your site or why—so long as they come.  Sure, people get disappointed, but that doesn't mean they won't still share it.  Besides, most of these companies are not aiming at being a credible news source.  They are trying to make a buck!  (These opposing goals are what has plagued the news industry for years.)

If, however, you are trying to establish your company as a reliable brand, this tactic is not for you.  If you want to build a loyal client base, this is tactic is not for you.  Basically, unless you are totally fine with potential clients associating your name with disappointment or missing your name all together, this tactic is not for you.  However, that doesn't mean you can't be provocative.  That doesn't mean you can't be clever or use the word unbelievable.  The secret is this:

Underpromise; Overdeliver

If you say you are unbelievable, you had better be un-freaking-believable.  If you're not, don't say you are, but try to be.  If you know you can do it in 4 days promise 5 days and try to get it done in 3 days.  I recently ordered and Stand Up Desk through  I had to pay for two-day shipping, and I complained about it because I've been spoiled by Amazon Prime.  The package arrived in only one day!  I was floored; I was more than happy with the shipping cost at that point.  Why?  Because expectations are everything.  Under-promising may not sound good in an advertisement, but over-delivering sells every time.