How To Create Irresistible Urges That No One Can Resist

Warning!  Youre about to discover how to create irresistible urges that no one can resist
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 “This one weird mold kills all germs — and you won’t believe where they found it!”
– How BuzzFeed might have announced the discovery of penicillin


About a year ago, I’d piled up a ton of news clips in a folder titled “clickbait presentation?”

Clickbait, in case you live under a rock that’s under another rock, buried at the bottom of the Marianas Trench, is the style of headline that takes ordinary news and injects it — like a Frenchman force-feeding grain to a goose on a foie gras farm — with emotion.

And lots of it.

The idea is that, try as you might, clicking through to see what the heck it’s about is patently irresistible. Don’t even try.

Whatever you feel about it now, clickbait has worked wonders, for sites you might also know, like ViralNova, Buzzfeed, Upworthy, and more.Business Insider uses it now too. So does the Huffington Post. So do dozens of other mainstream sources. And maybe that’s what soured my interest.

It had gotten so popular, I couldn’t believe it would last much longer. At least in the direct response world, over-exposure has transformed clickbait tag lines into targets for scorn. Every one of them, crafted to sound like a whole drama in 10 words or less, has started to sound the same.

Yet, they’re still out there. And, yep, I did recently come across a piece recently that made me want to dig up that file and get baited again…



It was an article in the Business Insider, itself pretty old (2013). But new to me.

And it was about one of the most successful clickbait purveyors I just mentioned, a site called “ViralNova.”  Using clickbait headlines, the site launched in May of that year at an Alexa popularity rank of 443,652.

By October, it had shot up to 1,685th place. Today it’s at 562nd. That’s a lot of traffic.

Nobody would argue, a lot of that success has do with how they write their headlines, with zingers like…

“What People in Japan are Purposely Doing To Their Bodies Is Absolutely Nuts…”

“He Was Feeling Sad and Heartbroken, But Then His Loyal Dog Did This…”


“What They Found Hiding Beneath This University Is Shocking Beyond Words…”

These are just randomly picked from today’s “feed.” What they share, other than enough sturm und drang to launch ships (or sink them), is an 89-year-old secret.

It turns out that Scott DeLong, the 30-something founder of ViralNova and frequent headline writer, got his inspiration for the site and how to haul in readers by the boatload… from a copy of an ad so powerful, he has it framed above his desk.

You know it. Everybody does.

Because it’s one of the most studied, copied, and ripped-off ads in advertising history, the John Caples classic that sold piano lessons with the immortal headline… wait for it…

“They Laughed When I Sat Down at the Piano, But When I Started To Play…”

DeLong, who’s written a thousands of similar taglines since the start of ViralNova’s ascent, calls it…


Even now, the knockoffs are so ubiquitous, few of us think about it. Yet, it’s a format that refuses to go away. The original Business Insider article sums up a pretty good reason why,

“What Caples understood first was that creating the piano ad was not simply about selling piano lessons to those who did not know how to play.

“Rather, he captured his audience with the promise of emotional benefit; the boy in the ad feels emotion after successfully playing the piano when no one believed in him, and those reading the ad are encouraged to be proud of him and want to replicate that same emotion for themselves (“maybe I can learn how to play the piano, and that can be me!”)”

Or as DeLong told them,

“The ad doesn’t just say ‘Learn How To Play the Piano’ or ‘How To Learn Piano In 30 Days…’ It goes one step further and strikes into the human emotion that we’re all selfish jerks who want to impress people… we want to shock and surprise them. We want to feel on top of the world, and this ad promises your moment of glory all in just a few relevant words.”

Or as we like to put it around here, Caples — and a lot of these Clickbait imitators — gave/give the prospect the chance to be a hero in his own story.

And who doesn’t want that?

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