Clickbait Catastrophe: 10 Deadly Mistakes You Need to See to Believe (Part 1)

Clickbait gets a bad rap. There’s a stigma. A negative connotation that people can’t get over.

Sure, after falling for yet another stupid clickbait title we all might hate ourselves a little bit.

But it’s fun! A brief escape. And mostly harmless (unless you spend all day reading BuzzFeed, but then you probably have bigger problems on your hands).

Everyone knows there’s a line with clickbait. Like The Force, which can be used for good or evil.

Here are 10 clickbait advertising mistakes that highlight exactly what you should avoid. 

But first, let’s find out what clickbait is in the first place to see if you’re already guilty of it.

(See what I did there? 🙂 )

What’s Clickbait (And Why Does it Matter)?

Yellow journalism is an idiom used to describe shoddy work that relies on sensationalism instead of research, investigation, and fact-based efforts. It’s a disparaging term, used far and wide to describe things that commonly today would fall under the clickbait umbrella.

However, just because clickbait has been perfected in the 21st century, doesn’t mean it’s a new thing.

Instead, the origins of yellow journalism stem from a yellow cartoon strip created in the 1800s that was, you guessed it, literally yellow. Hard to believe that newspapers at the time were concerned with increasing circulation as much as today’s obsession with Pageviews, as Gina Soskey pointed out in the HubSpot article.

But what is ‘clickbait’ in the first place?

We all know it when we see it. And yet the exact definition is hard to pin down.

It becomes even murkier when BuzzFeed (of all people) themselves claim, in full Bill Clinton style, that “they don’t use clickbait” while going on to lambaste those that do. (Pot, meet kettle.)

The Atlantic dives deeper than anyone wants or needs to go, comparing examples from different reputable sources including the Oxford English Dictionary and Harvard’s Neiman Journalism Lab.

Just about the only thing everyone can agree on, is that it involves capitalizing on our most fundamental desire of curiosity.

For example, the cliffhanger is arguably the most successful headline formula online today because it creates a curiosity gap that introduces deprivation (a notoriously powerful emotion according to one study). Seeing one of those irresistible headlines scroll across your News Feed can also create anticipation, eliciting a dopamine response when you click to reveal those adorable pug memes.

This power becomes more pronounced, says Stanford neuroscientist Robert Sapolsky, because dopamine spikes the “highest in the pursuit of happiness, rather than happiness itself”.

WTF does that mean?

We’re hard-wired to desire the chase. While the payoff leaves us as quickly as it comes.

But here’s the thing. Clickbait, in and of itself, isn’t inherently bad. There’s just a line somewhere.

Use it to garner attention for works of good and there’s no issue. However use it to deceive or manipulate and there’s no faster way to erode brand credibility. It’s kinda like financial leverage. Debt, applied to an appreciating asset, builds wealth. However too much of it, when said assets are declining in value, and your potential risk becomes excessively worse.

That’s where the rub comes in. We all know clickbait is effective (we’ll explore the science behind why next week). But like most things, it all comes down to execution.

It’s all in how you use it.

With that in mind, let’s start by seeing a few bad examples to show you when clickbait can backfire.

The 10 Worst Offenders

There are no bad advertisers. Only bad ads.

As evidence, many of the following brands below will also show up in the next article in this mini-series with good examples too.

But we can still dissect the copywriting in each ad below to learn from their mistakes.

1. Fabletics

Kate Hudson’s Fabletics heavily advertises on Facebook, with a pretty good track record when you view enough of them.

However, this first example could use a little work.

This is far from the worst clickbait offender we’ll see, but the muddled message of getting a discount only after completing a quiz does kinda reek of a bait-and-switch (even though that’s probably not their attention).

The fact that there are a few too many key points competing for attention (and space) on the ad only makes this problem worse.

Bringing the requirement (taking a quiz) more in line with incentive (the discount) might help this ad read better and avoid any potential misunderstandings.

2. Electric Kiwi

The road to hell was paved with good intentions.

This ad from Electric Kiwi seems like an honest-to-goodness attempt to showcase transparency and authenticity. But here’s the thing:

Nobody’s searching for ‘electric companies’ when they see this ad. There’s no intent or inherent interest. And as a general rule, power companies aren’t something that people usually care a great deal about.

So while not in the same style of BuzzFeed-esque clickbait here, this ad still uses similar elements (like the short, punchy question headline, without providing enough supporting information) to make it resemble one.

3. Inman News

On the clickbait Richter scale, this ad isn’t too bad! Sure, it uses the old ‘special report reveals’ technique, along with blaming some random third party people to build empathy between the reader and advertiser.

But overall this ad fails in the art of concision. The intro description is waaaaaaaaaay too long, while the ads headline gets cut off because it’s too long.

Instead, say more with less. (Especially when short headlines have been proven to perform the best too.)

Online, proper formatting can either build credibility or erode it. Inappropriately using huge walls of text, or having your incredibly critical headline truncated does the latter.

4. BetterHelp

BetterHelp presumably offers a helpful, important service for incapacitating problems that plague people.
And negative messaging, while proven extremely effective, can be a slippery slope into clickbait-ism.

This ad could also benefit from concision. Everything, from the introductory PARAGRAPH of copy to the truncated ad description, needs to be tightened up (or it’ll get ignored).

5. Ecommerce Simplified

Ok, now we’re about to go full Upworthy.

Like many examples you’ll see here, simply starting with ‘click here’ doesn’t always mean you’re about to fall off the clickbait deep end.

However, you ARE going off the high-dive when you follow that up with a dude living the high life on the beach, in a ‘make money’ niche, with a headline referring to a secret finally “EXPOSED” in all caps.

Tactics, especially copywriting, depend largely on the context in which they’re used.

Using aggressive tactics like this, without the sensitivity of how something might come across (or worse, being aware and doing it anyway), can backfire quickly.

6. My Snoring Solution

If the image on this ad doesn’t immediately grab your attention, nothing will.

The intro copy and headlines are short which means you’ll probably actually read them too (even though, yes, the supporting description is too long).

However, the main line and headline don’t tie in well together, relying more on evocative words like ‘nightmare’ and ‘fatal’ without any real substance.

For example, you could find a happy medium with the clickbait introduction by at least providing some additional context around what the “simple tip” is or how it works. Otherwise, it just seems like an empty claim.

Kinda like this next one…

7. Pebble

There’s a clever storytelling technique that purposefully doesn’t provide any backstory initially, instead starting off seemingly in the middle so that the reader feels like they missed something and is compelled to keep reading feverishly to catch up.

Done well, it’s incredibly effective.

Done improperly, and you get something that resembles this ad. A cluster-F, in other words.

What’s with the dumb quote? The random, truncated headline? And the obviously fake image?

There’s a time and a place to be clever. Ads, as a general rule, aren’t one of them. Doesn’t matter the medium.

Otherwise, it comes across like this, an incoherent mess where the reader knows you’re lying and any attention garnered with the outlandish claims are squandered.

8. Puppies Way

Let’s admit it: animals are cute. There’s nothing better than cute photos of cute animals.

Combining that with the cliffhanger headline formula of “This…” and “But Wait Till You See…” SHOULD make for a devastatingly effective

However, that fails here.

When the scene isn’t set effectively, reader’s don’t know what’s going on or what they’re supposed to be amazed to see. That makes it difficult (if not impossible) to create anticipation inside readers that compel them to click.


I have no idea what that grapefruit is suggesting. And I’m afraid to find out. And that could lead to a messy problem, right? (Sorry, couldn’t resist.)

Once again, the way the lead-in copy expertly combines with the headline is great! However, nowhere in this ad (copy, image, or otherwise) suggests or hints at how exactly this product is different from the more common ones.

As we’ve seen a few times already, they’re using bold clickbait claims without backing those things up. And without any supporting evidence, this headline wrongly becomes categorized with other deceiving ads.

10. Future Rising Consulting Private Limited

Another ad that unfortunately stays too true to form, preying on the ‘make gobs of money online from home while sitting in your boxer shorts’ crowd with a heavy-handed approach.

They don’t tell you how you’re going to make “handsome money”. The image is a shoddy, inappropriately sized, ‘100% satisfaction’ badge that suggests more, empty hyperbole.

The stuff about ‘ISO certified’ or ‘Private Limited Company’ seems like meaningless jargon in relation to everything else contained here. Experiences say people use big buzzwords when they don’t know what they’re talking about, or when they’re trying to overly impress someone with ‘sophisticated’ sounding words (to distract them from the fact that they don’t know what they’re talking about).

The result is kind of a mess. Something that says a lot of stuff, hints at the promise of things too good to be true, while failing to provide any real substance to back up up these claims.

Classic deceptive clickbait at it’s finest.


Clickbait means many things to many people. Despite how you may feel about it, it’s hard to argue it’s effectiveness.

But only when implemented properly.

Because of its pervasive misuse over the past few years, most consumers have wised up. They may not know it explicitly at the time, but something just doesn’t seem right.

That being said, you shouldn’t throw the baby out with the bathwater just yet.

Because when done right, clickbait techniques are one of the best ways to get your ads the click-through rates they deserve.

In the next article, we’ll look at why it can be so effective, along with ten good examples to emulate.