3 Reasons Why Clickbait Headlines Use Numbers

You can’t go on the internet without stumbling into “clickbait” — those annoying yet tantalizing articles that you aren’t looking for, but that are designed to entice you to click on a link and see, for example, how “unrecognizable” some ’80s TV star is now.

If you pay attention to clickbait (and of course you shouldn’t, but you can’t really help it, now can you?) you notice that there are definite patterns to it. The headlines for many of the clickbait pieces advertise something that is supposedly “shocking” or “jaw-dropping,” but a lot of them — say, 50 percent — also feature numbers.  As in “6 reasons why your retirement planning is doomed” or “7 signs revealing that your boss actually hates your guts.”  Today’s MSN website page, from which the above photo is taken, includes a bunch of sports-related clickbait, and numbers are prominent.

Obviously, the clickbait brigade thinks numbers are likely to lead to clicks.  Why?

The article “Why We Respond Emotionally to Numbers: 7 Ways to Use the Power of Numbers in Your Designs” — which itself has a clickbait-like title — argues that humans respond viscerally and subconsciously to numbers.  Even numbers, for example, are supposed to reflect feminine qualifies, while odd numbers are purportedly masculine.  Numbers also are associated with luck and with religion.  More basically, many games, especially those where you gamble, involve numbers.  Obviously, numbers must have a deep intuitive appeal for homo sapiens, even those who didn’t like math class.

In the case of clickbait, though, I think it is more than that.  People on the internet are typically in a hurry, and clickbait by definition is something that you’re not actually trying to find.  Numbers in the headlines signal clear limits on the amount of time you’re going to need to spend to check out that provocative clickbait.  Typically the number in the headline is below 10, encouraging you to think that even if the article is a colossal waste of time, at least you’ll figure that out quickly.  The fact that there are only 5 reasons to believe that the cast of Hogan’s Heroes was cursed might just tip the balance and cause you to move that mouse and cursor and click away.

 

Searching For Snippets

Lately I’ve spent a bit of time in front of the computer at home, on the YouTube website.  I’ve been looking for some funny highlights from TV shows that are now decades old.  You might call it searching for snippets.

My initial goal was to find the “Sis Boom Bah” moment from The Tonight Show starring Johnny Carson.  Featuring the redoubtable Carnak the Magnificent, in what I always thought was one of the best continuing skits on the show, it is arguably one of the funniest single moments on what was a consistently funny show.  (You could argue about other Tonight Show moments, like the Ed Ames tomahawk-throwing incident, but I digress.)  Sure enough, I found the entire Sis Boom Bah Carnak sketch on YouTube, and I’ve put it above in all of its early ’80s, totally un-PC glory at the top of its post.  The Sis Boom Bah moment is still hilarious.

There’s comedy gold to be found just about everywhere on YouTube, but you have to work to find it.  In that sense, it’s a lot more interactive than just watching TV and letting the cathode rays wash over you.   Let’s say that you thought the “Norm!” one-liners from Cheers were consistently funny, as I do, and just wanted to check out a few of them.  A few deft searches, and voila!   One example of what I found, with some of Norm’s choicest rejoinders, is below.  And whether it’s great moments from Seinfeld, or the title introduction to Hogan’s Heroes, or a favorite scene from The Dick Van Dyke Show, you can probably find it on YouTube.

 

The Inner Sergeant Schultz

The other day I made a reference to people channeling their inner Sergeant Schultz.  The comment met with baffled silence, because the people to whom I made the comment had no idea who Sergeant Schultz was.  It was a sad but instructive moment.

Those old enough to have watched Hogan’s Heroes, of course, would remember the portly, bumbling prison guard who craved sweets and schapps, feared being sent to the Eastern front, and supposedly kept an eye on Colonel Hogan and his fellow prisoners of war who were actively working for the Allied cause even while incarcerated in Stalag 13.  Schultz’s catch phrase, always said with a cheesy German accent after Hogan’s band had blown up a munitions dump or snuck a valued escapee through enemy lines, was:  “I know nothing.  Nothing!”  And his comment usually prompted the equally inept Stalag 13 commandant, Colonel Klink, to squint through his monocle, frown like he had just smelled a fart, and say:  “Schuuultzzzz!”

Hogan’s Heroes has been off the air for decades; it probably isn’t shown in reruns even on the most cut-rate cable channels.  It was a ridiculous show with a ludicrous premise, of course, but Sergeant Schultz was a giant in the pantheon of ’60s sitcom characters.  Now he has vanished into the vast forgotten pool that includes the likes of Corporal Agarn on F Troop and Mr. Haney from Green Acres — and I’ll have to come up with another shorthand way of referring to know-nothingism.

Catch Phrase Fever

It’s hard to believe now that a show like Hogan’s Heroes was ever on the air. Can you imagine making a sitcom out of life in a German prisoner of war camp, where the Nazis were cowards and idiots who were easily duped by the crafty Colonel Hogan and one of the running gags was about sending the Germans to the Eastern Front?  Yet when I was a kid, Hogan’s Heroes was one of the most popular shows on TV, filled with catch phrases that kids used every day in school — whether it was Colonel Burkhalter’s “Dummkoff!” or Klink’s fist-shaking “Hogan!!!!!!” or — most often — Sergeant Schultz’s “I know nothing . . . nothing!”

I was disappointed to see that I couldn’t find a clip of Schultz’s “I know nothing!” on YouTube, but this still shot with the famous line being delivered is the next best thing.