Five Lessons Marketers can learn from ISIS

For those of you hoping to distill the lessons from a barbaric terror group into your own marketing plan, you won’t find that here.

But unfortunately, the headline is a sign of our times. We have been so thoroughly desensitized by the manic nature of our feeds, those vying for our attention make even more salacious attempts to get it. It’s an arms race of click bait, and you and I are fueling it.

There’s a lesson here. Not one that should be duplicated, but one that should be avoided. Preying on the nature of people as curious, social animals with interruptive and incongruent content is the sad and desperate nature of today’s internet. But as much as I recognize that, my curiosity will still get the best of me. Shamefully, I will click on a “You won’t believe #11” headline to see if truly, I can’t believe it.

A book that addresses this function of our lizard brain is Made to Stick, by the Heath Brothers. In there, they discuss creating curiosity gaps for your audience. But as we all know, a well-intentioned lesson can be exploited for evil purposes as well. As storytelling poses questions and opens situations, curiosity looks to answer questions and close situations. We need closure in life, no matter how ridiculous the circumstance.

According to George Loewenstein, a behavioral economist mentioned in the book, curiosity arises when we feel a gap in our knowledge. He argues that gaps cause pain. When we want to know something but don’t, it’s like having an itch we need to scratch. To take away the pain, we need to fill the knowledge gap. We sit patiently through bad movies, even though they may be painful to watch, because it’s even more painful to not know how they end.

Or in this case, we click on belligerent headlines that impart marketing lessons from a group known for profoundly graphic beheadings.

Maybe that’s way you opened this. Because it was so easy to just click and go back to your day. A simple detour to take away the pain of curiosity and resolve the melody I malevolently created. To ensure you are not sitting on the subway, in your car, or staring down a burger, wondering what idiot would write this, and wishing you would have clicked. Or more disturbing, fomo on something to learn from ISIS. God, I hope that’s not the case.

Let’s face it, no one likes click bait, not even the people who write it. But when unethical publishers and marketers exploit our curiosity, we can fight back by not giving into it. We can fight the need to close the gaps in our conscience, especially for things we are mildly curious, but don’t have a direct impact on our life.

Attention is scarce. And scarcity sometimes brings out the worst in people. Those same people will continue to up the ante with more desperate, sensational and offensive headlines with one goal in mind: to get us to click.

The more they know about the human condition, the more they use it against us. But once we are aware, we can stop. We can find peace in knowing that we may never know if “#11,” is unbelievable, or how much Rob and Blac Chyna will make by releasing their baby pictures. But we can know that the only way to a better internet, is by starting with ourselves, reconditioning our behavior, and clicking on things that matter.

(And the baby pictures will fetch a cool million by the way.)

Baby steps people, baby steps.

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