Is there a sale on? / Tim Parkinson

August 17, 2016; The Wall Street Journal

RXM Creative, an “award-winning agency specialized in social media, branded content and integrated campaigns,” with clients such as Volkswagen, Reebok and WWF, created Clickbait For Good to “use clickbait to promote charities, support causes and encourage donations.” This is not the first time leading lights in the for-profit world mistakenly assume they know what’s best for the nonprofit sector.

Jack Marshall at the Wall Street Journal writes about this aggregated newsfeed that “lets you click on what matters.”

People can visit and share clickbait links on their social profiles that drive traffic to charities including World Wildlife Fund, charity: water, Stop Hunger Now and others. RXM Creative is also publishing links via a dedicated Clickbait for Good Facebook page and Twitter account, but said it does not plan to pay to promote any of its posts. Instead it will rely on word-of-mouth and social sharing.

Apparently, unbidden, the digital-marketing agency generates and promotes clickbait headlines for content about charities it chooses to help. Nonprofits can also submit content for consideration. The problem is that this ill-conceived initiative is likely to aggravate more than inspire. The website should offer charities the option to sign up to decline the offer.

Clickbait is sometimes clever, often misleading, always distracting, and by definition overpromises and under-delivers. Clickbait patronizes the donor and at best trivializes the charity’s mission. Nonprofits seek engagement and relationships, not mere clicks. View “counts” may pay the bills in the marketing world, but tricking people into clicking on charity content kills trust, which is the coin of the realm in the voluntary sector.

Another obvious problem with this initiative is that RXM Creative is too late; clickbait no longer works. The practice is considered by most media and marketing professionals as being morally questionable, indefensible as a strategy, and utterly self-defeating in the long run. Used in the context of charity and clickbait provides highly combustible fuel to the debate about what constitutes aggressive fundraising.

It is unclear if the charities consented to the clickbait headlines being created for them on the Clickbait For Good website. One hopes not.

  • For Love 146 (human trafficking): “She fell for Mr. Perfect. You won’t believe what happened next” (with an accompanying image of a seated young girl in a frilly red dress).
  • For Girls Not Brides (child marriage in places like Bangladesh): “OMG! She is just 16 and she has done things the Kardashians haven’t even thought about” (with an accompanying image of an elite wealthy woman wearing a white dress hiked as high as it will go before being pornographic, exiting the backseat of a luxury car carrying a bag containing her latest expensive purchase).
  • For #Milk4Syria: “The ONE thing you need to know about drinking milk.”
  • For American Foundation for Suicide Prevention: “Exclusive: See what happened only a week after Robin Williams’ suicide.”

You get the picture.

This article about the status of clickbait recently appeared in TechCrunch: “Facebook’s new anti-clickbait algorithm buries bogus headlines.” When Jack Marshall asked about this development at Facebook, this was RXM Creative’s response: “Facebook is just a small part of it. Clickbait is on every site and on every news aggregator. Once this generates awareness we can go to Facebook and show them the project.” Facebook is sacrificing money to improve the quality of the Internet. Does RXM Creative know something about clickbait that Facebook is missing?

It would seem the general public agrees with Facebook. Twitter’s SaveYouAClick (opposed to clickbait—“Don’t click on that. I already did. I’m just one guy (‪@jakebeckman) trying to help.”) has 227,000 followers. The RXM Creative (the experts, after all) Twitter account has 714 followers; the Clickbaitforgood Twitter account has 31 followers.

Charities cannot game trust. Lying kills donor retention. The headlines above are morally indefensible. Clickbait is like learning to smile from a manual. Philanthropy is not grown in a petri dish. Charity is the result of honest human interaction and concern. Charity needs to be honored, not disgraced.—James Schaffer