Admission is the first step.
Each time my wife walks into the room and glances at the illicit images on my screen, I quickly jolt to change browser tabs before the realization hits home.
My face flushes, awkwardly scrambling before she can process the unspeakable acts happening before our very eyes.
For if I was caught red-handed, she would surely take our kids and leave me immediately. I can’t help myself. It’s too tempting. Too easy. Too satisfying when I’m done.
But there can be no more secrets. No more sneaking around. No more lies of betrayal or angry denials.
So here goes. I…
I read BuzzFeed.
There. I said it.
A huge weight lifted. No more anonymity. It’s true. I read BuzzFeed for their, um, copywriting ideas.
Sure, their content literally lowers your I.Q. as you’re reading it. But they’re also the best in the business at getting you to click (even when you know the train-wreck of epic proportions waiting for you on the other side won’t be pretty).
Here’s why you should also, ahem, study these three BuzzFeed copywriting tips too.
The Art of the Angle: BuzzFeed’s Ace in the Hole
I didn’t want to write this. Each typed letter literally inflicts physical pain. But I can’t escape the truth.
BuzzFeed are masters at getting you to click.
Even when you know what’s happening. It still works. Which is a testament to their skill and expertise.
The first thing that jumps out at you are the headlines. Their glorious, hyperbolic, absolutely ridiculous headlines.
But BuzzFeed’s headlines are amazing for a specific reason: they intimately understand the art of the angle.
Most people get the topic or subject for whatever content piece they’re creating. But chances are, that topic has been beaten to death by the other two million posts published the very same day.
Instead, an effective angle gives the topic life. It’s the way you interpret or communicate said subject in a new, refreshing, intriguing light.
And the lack of one, is the single biggest reason nobody’s sharing your blog posts, reading your email newsletters, or clicking on your ads.
Most importantly, an effective angle gets people to care.
No caring = no reading. No reading = no clicking. No clicking = no buying.
Without teasing you any longer, here’s an excellent overview of effective angles from Writer’s Digest:
(Wait, did I just say Writer’s Digest? What am I, 80 years old? What’s happening to me today?)
- Start with the opposite of where the piece ends: Use misdirection to setup the article’s topic, and possibly highlight how your point of view evolves or changes.
- Make unlikely comparisons: This creates a pattern interruption (which we’ll unpack in a second) and keeps people reading to see how on Earth these two things come together.
- Bring in opposing viewpoints: Successful stories have tension and conflict. Highlighting those from the get-go is a powerful way to get people to stop and pay attention.
- Highlight divisions or categories: Create a separation between types of people or communities to contrast and compare.
- Contrast your tone and subject: Use a different, contrarian point of view that people might not expect when dealing with that subject or topic.
- Be topical: Jump on the bandwagon of an already popular topic to align yourself with what’s already in the public’s consciousness.
BuzzFeed manipulates these various angles on a daily basis, pushing them to the extreme in the only virtuosic way they know how.
Sure, their boundary-pushing copy is probably too outlandish for your business. But you CAN emulate their approach to immediately un-suck your dry, limp content.
The last angle listed is especially effective. And it manifests as one of the oldest tricks in the proverbial copywriting book: newsjacking.
Newsjacking is an age-old approach to piggybacking on another brand, event, or person currently receiving an outsized amount of attention and interest.
You latch onto breaking news or trending topics, inject yourself into the conversation by creating some meaningful connection, and hopefully ride the tide all the way in.
This approach comes under fire every time some lame brand makes a lame attempt at profiting from a national disaster. But don’t throw the baby out with the bathwater just yet. Done successfully, there’s no better way to land press or get attention for your tiny, no-name brand that most haven’t heard of before.
Sure, you could simply use one of the basic newsjacking formulas. But are you really going to cover the news better than the highly trained, highly paid journalists in your industry? Probably not.
Instead, up the ante.
Start with the topical news subject and escalate the impact by adding additional context or insight. Look no further than BuzzFeed.
Whitewashing has been a growing hot topic in the news for months for good reason, shedding light on a despicable practice. A lazy attempt at newsjacking this topic would just summarize the basic facts, figures, and latest sad tale.
However, BuzzFeed pushes the envelope on showing the effects and ramifications through someone’s first-hand account.
Thought that was over-the-top? Peep this:
Potential future U.S. president, Donald Trump (let that sink in for a moment), has a, well, complicated relationship with anyone who’s not an old rich white dude. But instead of being overly obvious, BuzzFeed finds an incredible hook that perfectly illustrates this point-of-view in a fresh, attention-stopping way.
The takeaway? Animal meme’s are never not funny.
No wait, the takeaway is to identify and select a commonly understood issue and connect that back to a seemingly unrelated topic. The incongruence between topics, if done well, breaks the pattern people are expecting to see (buying you a few additional seconds to get them to read more).
It happens every time.
Tracy’s at it again, while Jenna’s busy cooking up her next show-stopping plot in the next room. But before we can see the resolution, the story cuts to Jack showing Liz the ways of the world.
Open loops have been used successfully for years movies, and T.V. shows to keep people on the edge of their seat, eagerly awaiting what happens after the next commercial break.
They can even be used in email subject lines to push underperforming open rates up into the 60% range.
BuzzFeed understands the power of anticipation better than anyone. Commonly giving you a small sample of what’s to come, yet holding back just enough information to make sure you click through.
… what? What don’t people tell you?
Long distance relationships are a commonly accepted, difficult practice. Especially those who have tried it, or are currently trying it.
Here, BuzzFeed is taking advantage of that world-view, alluding to a few of the most problematic difficulties, and then stepping back to let your mind do the rest. They’re creating a gap, which triggers your ego to run wild until answers are found.
Case in point:
A word like ‘this’ implies, while ‘less than 1 in 80,000’ illustrate something rare, surprising, and unexpected.
That specificity turns lazy, boring, meaningless words like ‘rare’, ‘surprising’ and ‘unexpected’ into something to behold.
“This Incredible Bridal Shoot is Changing Perceptions Of People With Down Syndrome”
Again, ‘this’ is used to reference a specific case or example (as opposed to generalities which aren’t as interesting). Then they follow it up by pairing it with an unexpected topic in ‘down syndrome’, while ‘changing perceptions’ means there’s a transformation taking place.
Surprisingly complicated and nuanced stuff from the same people who brought you 25 of the most awkward cat sleeping positions.
The Inside Joke
First rule of copywriting?
Second rule of copywriting: avoid jargon.
The proliferation of ‘synergy’, ‘best in class’, ‘cost savings’ and more across the same websites, same emails, and same ads, in the same damn industry, teaches your audience to do one thing… ignore your messaging and treat you all the same.
Because no one can tell what differentiates one from the other. Commoditization, meet price sensitivity.
As a general rule of thumb: be clear, not clever. Otherwise you run the risk of creating a cornucopia of crap that fails to resonate or stand out or evoke emotion from readers.
There are a few cases where jargon can – and should! – be used to do something special: create exclusivity.
You know those big Vegas nightclubs that routinely pull in a hundred milli with the big lines wrapped around the building? They COULD let everyone in. If they wanted to. But they don’t. Because that big line showcases a place you SHOULD be, because others want to be (but most can’t or won’t be).
Employing jargon-laced copy does the same. It provides a subtle wink and nod to your peeps, while actively turning away and excluding those aren’t good enough, smart enough, beautiful enough, skilled enough, or just lucky enough to belong.
Draw empathy from a group of people by letting them know you understand their pain. The image reinforces something only those in the inner circle will understand.
The mere mention of Kumon brings up fraction-crunching nightmares for people in the know. The supporting copy does just, setting the tone appropriately so that any ‘Kumon Kid’ immediately gets it.
A different, but similarly effective technique? Nostalgia.
Nostalgia marketing evokes deeply personal memories or experiences that can instantly create a positive association with whatever it is you’re talking about. It transports the reader, cutting through the noise to momentarily remind them of happier times (while also distracting them from the problems and stresses they’re currently trying to avoid).
Like when the first few bars of My Heart Will Go On brings to mind Kate & Leo, arms outstretched on the bow of the Titanic.
And it creates a common bond between the reader and the person (or people) behind the content.
What you see is largely what you get with BuzzFeed’s content.
HOWEVER, the depth and sophistication behind how they package that content is astounding. And should be emulated.
People can get facts from dictionaries and news outlets. From you, they want insight. They want you to translate it, and unpack it from them. Telling them why it matters, and what they should do with it.
Three of the most effective angles include:
- Piggybacking on newly trending topics, while adding your own special twist to successfully newsjack and get yourself some ink.
- Creating an open loop through cliffhangers that tease and allude to create interest, yet hold back to get you to click.
- Strategically using jargon — when appropriate — to create a common bond between your brand, your target market, and no one else.
In a world exploding with ‘content marketing’, getting customer’s attention is the most difficult challenge marketers face.
Which means BuzzFeed should be required reading for all.
No matter how painful that is to accept. Or how many cat memes you’re forced to sift through.