How, why and hyperbole

There are three trends in copywriting that have been so overused they should now be avoided. The first two:

Headlines with “why” for articles that don’t actually explain why.

Headlines with “how” that don’t really teach you how.

Explaining why is difficult, which is where the value lies. People would like to understand things that confuse them, so they search for ‘why’ or click on it when an apparently reputable source promises the answer. Even major newspapers are discovering that this is a fine way to get attention. Alas, it’s not a promise that’s easily kept.

And ‘how’, which should be a simpler promise to honor, falls into a similar trap.

With the rise of AI and LLMs, these headlines have gone from fake promises to redundant. We can simply ask an AI for the How and the Why and we’re likely to get better insight than a content farm can offer us… so the few trusted brands that are left ought to make these promises more carefully.

The third trend is becoming more pernicious. I got an email yesterday from a founder I respect, and there was an astounding promise or claim in every third line. The YouTube videos that the email pointed to all had headlines that could have come out of a supermarket tabloid or a late night informercial ad. There was no way the reality could match the hype, and it’s a shame, because the reality was actually useful.

The pressure is real. The argument is that if you don’t follow the trend and out-hype everyone else (“you’ll never believe this secret!”) then you won’t get traffic and you’ll fail.

But the evidence clearly points in the other direction. Trust is what’s in short supply, not attention.

You can always create a short-term commotion to get a bit of attention. But you can’t possibly hype your way into being trusted.

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