Here are three things you need to know about the iWATCH.
1. The rumors that it will cost ‘thousands of dollars’ are untrue. It will retail for $129.99 in the US and Canada.
2. This won’t be a repeat product with minor tweaks and improvements on previous versions. The iWATCH is completely revolutionary. It DESTROYS the whole category of “wearable technology.”
How do I know? Let’s just say I didn’t spend ten years in Apple R&D (that’s what we call the Red and Delicious breeding program at Drole Fruit and Juice Laboratories, where I am currently Chief Apple Engineer) for nothing.
My Kickstarter campaign to develop iWATCH, also known as the Integrated Wearable Apple-Tracking Camper’s Hat, has been an unprecedented success, generating tens of dollars in contributions.
The biggest surprise was the instant, overwhelming media attention. The tech blogs have been all over me like white on rice. I hit just upon the right product at the right time, I guess.
As Steve Jobs loved to say, “One last thing.”
3. You’ve just been link-baited.
If you began reading this article because you were curious about the rumors that Apple plans to market a smart watch, you won’t be disappointed. Not because I know anything about whether there is such a thing as an iWatch or not, but because this is going to be a fun survey of link-baiting.
Consider your continued reading an agreement to play along, knowing it is universally acknowledged that play is a sign of high intelligence.
Promising you that the rest of this article is worth reading, offering transparent compliments, and using eye-catching ALL CAPS are all classic tactics of link-baiting.
Admit it. Weren’t psychology classes much more fun when they tricked you into participating in a behavior before explaining why it worked that way?
You almost feel sorry for cable news and their desperation for a precious slice of your divided attention.
Market forces have warped news content in the post-CNN era. If you don’t have news, you must present your material as though it were new. Reword your headlines! Rotate your anchors! Update the crisis logos! We should blame 24-hour-a-day news quotas for the never-ending updates on the lack of updates about the missing Malaysian airliner.
Before cable news and internet pop-up ads, it seemed like only tabloids practiced such blatant tantalization. Like other link-bait, they pull a bait and switch con. Classified as celebrity gossip, aren’t they technically offering science fiction? Or magic realism?
It’s just like a scene in Fox TV’s Family Guy. Lois tries new careers, including one as a reporter for a tabloid. She writes some mundane article about a sandwich or a bus stop or something, and her editor tells her to include the words “headless,” “topless,” and “body” in her headline.
Lois asks, “But what does that have to do with my story?”
“You’re fired!” He replies.
“Advertising is to a genuine article what manure is to land—it largely increases the product.”
That’s my favorite P.T. Barnum quotation. He understood that no matter what the product, his true art form was advertising. He therefore not only succeeded where he succeeded, he often succeeded where he’d failed.
There was a tidal wave of believers who flocked to his shows to see the advertised parade of rarities. Who could resist the chance to witness a freak of nature? Then, of course, there was an outcry that he was a charlatan perpetrating frauds.
His profits dipped temporarily, but then surged again.
It turned out that people knew what he was promising was fake, but they were desperately curious to see how thoroughly he had tried to trick them. Fingerprints had to be constantly wiped from the glass case containing the infamous “mermaid.” Apparently, everyone kept trying to point out exactly how and where this tiny primate carcass must have been cunningly stitched into a huge fish’s tail.
You can imagine the same giddy conversations playing out over and over again.
“That cannot be real!”
“This is sick! Why did we come? I have to tell Nelly!”
“I wish there were some portable device with which I could record an image of myself to share with friends!”
The point is, sometimes we know we’re going to be tricked, but that heightens our desire. Maybe because we feel safer, being in on the joke. Or maybe we just appreciate the craft. Or the flattery of effort.
I believe that’s part of why we resignedly click on teasers we see shared in our news feeds like:
“This Dad just DESTROYED society’s concept of beauty for his daughter!”
“Get rid of this common household item before it KILLS your pet!”
“You won’t BELIEVE what this baby just did, and it saved her mom’s life!”
If the teaser itself isn’t enough, its recommendation by one of your friends adds subtle, yet immense social pressure to take part, or risk feeling left out of something.
If you seek proof that advertising overshadows quality, just take a look at the release schedule of summer blockbusters. You also don’t have to look much further than Baby Scumbag.
The VICE documentary crew recently profiled the infamous, now 13-year-old skater known as Baby Scumbag. From an impossibly wide field of underaged skaters posting videos of their athletic tricks online, he is the undisputed king of page views. He’s good enough to be sponsored, but he’s not the best skater. He does, however, look up women’s skirts and make inappropriate comments with a baby face that makes viewers giggle and/or squirm. More importantly, the viewers share the links with others. His viral notoriety means that a mere appearance in a peer’s video guarantees that video’s popularity will spike.
On the other hand, two years ago, the Nieman Journalism Lab published Andrew Phelps’ clever and cleverly titled article, “I can’t stop reading this analysis of Gawker’s editorial strategy.”
Recognizing that a certain type of headline consistently drove up page view counts, the editors decided to rotate a particular duty they recognized, but didn’t want to call “traffic-whoring.”
Aside from their more serious reporting, once in awhile, staff members would be responsible for stories they could predict would go viral, which is how they came up with classics like “The Top Nine Videos Of Babies Farting And/Or Laughing With Kittens” and “Penguin Shits on Senate Floor.”
Interestingly, those were reliable draws, but not enough to sustain a business model. It actually takes a deliberate blend of “substantive” content as well as the “traffic-whoring” kind to deliver the consistent, demographically specific audience metrics to one’s advertisers.
That is to say, the most crucial economic insight in the article is that Gawker’s competitive edge with companies which sell clothing, movie tickets, or cell phones stems from the fact that the publishers “can promote that their readers are both younger and richer than the Huffington Post’s, People’s, Slate’s, or TMZ’s.”
A 2011 New York Times analysis of the Huffington Post’s valuation finds a similar “power-law” relationship, with “20 percent of the blog posts accounting for about 80 percent of the comments (and, we are assuming, the traffic.)”
Thankfully, it turns out the thing that reliably prevents link-baiting from becoming the norm, from taking over 100% of how media is advertised, is MONEY.
I’m confident money will hold the barbarians back. At least for a little while longer.
Of course, there’s another famous P.T. Barnum maxim which states, “Nobody ever lost a dollar by underestimating the taste of the American public.”
One Last Thing
Which brings us back to the iWatch link-baiting.
If you read tech blogs, you’ve surely heard that the hottest trend in personal computing today is “wearable technology.”
Actually, the hottest trends in personal computing are, and will likely always be, porn and video games.
However, tech journalists seem convinced the world as we know it will change because of bigger glasses and wristwatches, which should help you create a mental picture of most tech journalists.
If you haven’t already, try googling the question, “Is Apple making an iWatch?”
You’ll notice the headline results are brazen, confident, and definitive. The headlines purport trumpet release dates and pricing details. The contents are, without exception, lacking specifics and consistently introduced as aggregated rumor.
I think most readers know to take such rumors with many grains of salt, but I worry about the older reader who does not. The rush to seem more up-to-date than any other news source drives articles to frenzied, untrue claims that damage our trust in one another. We see that in the store. Confused consumers come to scream at us for rumors they believed and wind up feeling as though this generation is maliciously tricking the previous one.
But I also worry about the younger readers.
In the New York Times, the Editorial Board wrote in “Recovery For Whom?” that millennials were “worse off than Gen Xers (born from the mid-1960s to the late-1970s) were at that age and the baby boomers before them by nearly every economic measure—employment, income, student loan indebtedness, mobility, homeownership and other hallmarks of “household formation,” like moving out on their own, getting married and having children.”
Why didn’t this incite rioting in the streets? Or at least umbrage, like the Time magazine cover story, “The Me Me Me Generation”?
If only millennials read those publications. Or essays without GIF lists. Or thoughts that are longer than 140 characters.
And what about teen consumers who have no motivation to sort frenzy from reality?
I once attended the filming of the pilot of a TV game show. The audience was filled with teens, most of whom had brought their headshots. Desperate to be on-camera in more than a pan across the audience, they swarmed anyone who walked by with a clipboard, hoping to suck up to production staff. When the B-list celebrity hosting the show walked onto stage, the crowd erupted for eight minutes longer than the director had asked.
In one portion of the show, they asked a volunteer to come up on stage and pretend they had won the game. If jealousy could kill, that boy they chose would have burst into flames. However, the director announced they wanted to reshoot the sequence with a different volunteer, going for a less excited reaction, aiming for a more “normal” take. Of course, every hormone-jacked kid in there began jumping up and down on their chair screaming, “PICK ME! I can do ‘NORMAL’! I CAN DO ‘NORMAL’!!!”
Sure you can, kid.
There’s one of us born every minute.