A blog I sometimes follow, Adland.tv, has some interesting things to say regarding the decline of “clickbait” media. They first had an article about the dramatic crash in clickbait king Buzzfeed’s numbers:
Back in 2015, a writer at Buzzfeed put on their squinty glasses to drum up controversy about a headline on a Bud Light bottle, claiming it promoted rape culture, based on anonymous tweets, etc. This caused Bud Light to apologize for a headline. What was the headline? “The perfect beer for removing no from your vocabulary.” Not “the perfect beer for removing no from her vocabulary.” Which is why semantics matter and why good journalism matters, too. To drum up eyeballs, they forgo professionalism. The new sport of course is trolling brands and forcing them to apologize for whatever manufactured outrage possible. It’s low hanging nasty fruit, but if the Gawker Hulk Hogan trial is any indication, that kind of sleaze behaviour doesn’t bode well for the media outlet.…
Such is the need to feed the ever hungry content beast that Buzzfeed was notorious (probably still is, I haven’t visited it in ages) for stealing content, or attributing a source after the fact and only in wee type at the bottom. Back in 2013, a photo I took was ganked and put up in an Buzzfeed article. This is the same reason that they recycle listicles all the time. It is also the same reason multiple imitators have popped up like Upworthy, whose traffic, by the way, has also dropped. People are tired of seeing the same stuff over and over again. It only takes modicum of focus before you realize companies who steal content, don’t attribute it properly, and keep recycling the same content is a site that isn’t worth much at all. Not to you, and not to brands.
The Financial Times article states that, while Buzzfeed still draws stupid amounts of numbers and we all know how easily it is to fake those but regardless, traffic isn’t enough to make revenue. The ad model can only scale so much. A few years ago Jonah Peretti showed up to my agency to push the Buzzfeed’s Snake Oil. Not one creative in the room was interested. Why in the hell would I leave the content in the hands of an employee whose main job is to create headlines like “13 Reasons why McDreamy is still McDreamy?” Answer: I wouldn’t. And no self-respecting creative would. I’m starting to suspect a lot of agencies and their clients have wised up. Why spend the money on a media outlet that doesn’t move the needle?
They also have another article pointing out the crash in Gawker’s numbers:
The Gawker Quantcast data shows a huge drop in traffic at Gawker’s sites. This comes as no surprise to anyone here at Adland, and y’all who have been paying attention, as Vice’s traffic has collapsed as well, and Buzzfeed missed its revenue target by a lot. Oh, and for Gawker there’s that pesky detail with the bad PR Gawker brought upon themselves when they taunted Gamergate, brought back bullying, trolled Coca cola, and pretended they had partnerships with Adobe when they actually didn’t.
Gawker revised their content strategy shortly after, deciding to report on more political news just in time for a US election year, but this hasn’t helped the numbers at all.
I recommend reading both blog entries in full, as they are quite informative.
The decline of these “clickbait” websites are an interesting topic for me, in part because I feel that some of the same reasons we are all here at Hot Gas are related to the reasons these sites are falling apart. First, as Adland noted, these blogs thrive on ridiculous “Get Rich with this One Weird Trick!” and “Top Ten Reasons Disco is Coming Back!” articles, and there’s only so much of that trash people are going to consume, and only so much room for that sort of thing in the market.
Which brings me to my first point, that being oversaturation of the market. Most of these sites spew out the same kinds of content, to the point where this content is now everywhere you look on the web. Those of you who don’t employ adblockers will certainly have seen “clickbait” type ads for a dozen different sites at Dead Air, Zero Hedge, and nearly every other blog on the internet. Oversaturation inevitably seems to lead to dilution. We saw this principle in action with the rise of the original conservative blogosphere, when the liberal media spoke with one voice and many Americans were starved for alternative content.
And we’ve seen that principle again with the growth in traffic of Hot Gas and Conservative Treehouse. We think our content is markedly different from that of the rest of the conservative blogosphere, which increasingly speaks with one voice is learning to take marching orders like their counterparts in the liberal MSM. The rise of Conservative Treehouse in particular has been remarkable, enough that talk radio titan Mark Levin felt compelled to attack them on the air.
The other reason for the decline of clickbait websites has been a process of “toxification” of these websites’ brands. Another article from Adland summarizes all of the things that Gawker has done to harm itself in the last few years:
- Failed to pay its interns, making them work for free
- Ruined Coke’s #makeithappy advertising campaign
- Outed Condé Nast’s CFO as gay for clicks and “lulz”
- Published pieces supporting pedophilia
- Published the Hulk Hogan sex tape
- Made pro-pedophile comments in a court of law during the Hulk Hogan sex tape trial
- Kotaku, a sub-blog of Gawker, attacked and drove out a good chunk of its own readership in the wake of the Gamergate controversy, leading to the rise of Kotaku in Action and other alternative gaming media blogs
I could probably make that bullet point list even longer, but I think my point has been made. The Gawker brand has become so dirtied that advertisers don’t want anything to do with it, and even the general public is clearly not interested in what Gawker is selling based on their plunging viewership numbers.
Does this “toxification” process and the ideologically-based purging of its own readers remind you of anyone?