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12 Aug

People aren't fish, you know.

Picture this:

You visit the mall over the weekend and find that because of the rush of monsoon sales, your favourite outlets are not displaying clothing items individually on hangers. You decide to go ahead and pick out a few pieces anyway, and then at the check-out counter, you are told you can only buy sets.

You are confused about what to do next. You spent considerable time and effort picking each item from the mess, but your experience at the payment counter leaves a bad taste in your mouth.

You decide to walk out of the store.

A similar scenario plays even as we scroll through our social media feeds.

Every second or third block showcases ads for various products loosely tailored to suit our interests. We click on advertisements for multiple reasons. Sometimes the offer is too good to be true or the visuals used are desirable, and sometimes we wish to seek novelty.

The marked difference between shopping online and offline is the scope of discovery. When visiting a market or a mall, your discovery is limited to the shops in your physical vicinity. However, while scrolling through social media feeds, you might just come across a new store you would not have known otherwise.

The difference between the shopping experiences highlights how branding evolves to suit the medium.

Offline shops may use flashy banners with neon lights to grab your attention. In the digital space, visuals and copy do the same. As a business, your end goal in both experiences should then be to create a delightful and hassle-free shopping experience for your customers.

For today, let's talk about the online shopping experience. I'm posting some of my personal observations on how existing businesses use copy appropriately (or inappropriately) to lure customers, and what can be improved.



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A is a case of clickbait. The image is appealing and shows a set of clothes. But in the cost and features, the copy only mentions the cost of the cotton churidar. A consumer is likely to click on the ad because of two things:

The dress looks appealing, and the prices look enticing enough. But when they skim over the caption and click the ad they are shocked. Three probable scenarios arise:

1. A customer clicks on the ad and gets redirected to the website only to find out the cost was only for one part of the clothes set and abandons the website without moving further.

2. A customer adds the product to the cart. On checking the payment receipt, they learn that they would only be paying for a part of the product.

3. A customer makes a purchase and finds out they bought only part of the product after it is delivered.

A similar instance to Case A was when I was recently scrolling through the Ikea website and came across the cabinet product listing.One looks at the brown cabinet with legs in the image and assumes it is a part of the product, given the price. But as soon as you click on the brown cabinet, it shows just the box. And then you realise the cabinet legs are to be purchased separately.



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Case B is, I'm guessing, a case of signalling. The image is appealing, and the cost, and features in the copy mention the details upfront. A consumer who finds the pricing unaffordable will not click on the ad. For a brand, this may be a double-edged sword. On the one hand, it creates a barrier to entry, but on the other, it can also be beneficial as the brand is likely to have lower cart abandonment rates. The copywriting accounts for a customer's willingness to pay for their product.



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Case C is I feel the most honest of the lot. It shows you exactly what you will be getting for the money, without using a beautiful model or an aesthetic or background as bait. The image may not be as appealing, but it clearly sets customer expectations. A consumer knows what the ad is about and that there is a hefty product discount. The ad could have shown up because of the consumer’s previous search history for that product, and the copy enables them to make a buying decision.

Among the three cases illustrated above, Case B and C are examples of factual copywriting.

But to stand out from the noisy social media ads, creative copywriting plays a key role. And clickbaity headlines and captions need to be looked at more carefully.

A brand's intention while running any of these ads could be to move a prospect from MOFU to BOFU or to generate interest among the TOFU prospects. But if the performance marketeer is incentivised for optimizing click-through rates (CTR) and their performance is measured on this metric, they might just be prone to writing more clickbaity copy.

But can clickbait be necessary, and even smart sometimes?

Selling products and services online is a ruthless war between competing brands vying for customer attention. Copywriting that shocks, entertains, and surprises a reader can be a tool to stand out. Effective clickbait can create engagement for a brand, allowing itself to take the customer to a platform where it can sell better.

Additionally, ad formats on social media can become limiting for a product with many differentiators. In such cases, it's sometimes better to grab the attention of the consumer and take them to a platform where you can pitch your product the way you want it to, outside of the limitations of ad formats

Clickbait done well creates a long-term recall value even if a customer may not make a purchase. More importantly, it reduces barriers to discovery.

However, there is a fine line between doing clickbait copywriting well and losing customers by overdoing it.

When clickbait goes wrong, you lose money not only on the ad spend but also because of the negative brand perception created for a customer. The examples of Ikea and the partial cost of Churidar underline the theme of hidden costs.

In this blog exploring the reasons for cart abandonment, the following captures the essence of how costly hidden costs are:

"Hidden costs are the number one reason why customers abandon their carts. A few also add items to the cart only to check the final prices, thus increasing abandonment rates. Customers almost feel deceived and lose a sense of trust and credibility in your brand. These tactics increase cart abandonments and extrude consumers from making any further purchases affecting customer retention rates."

Essentially, clickbait, when misleading, creates negative brand perception.

Such misfires can show better numbers in the short term, but they will impact your funnel and jeopardise your reputation in the long term.

A consumer is one of the more powerful stakeholders in any transaction. Manipulating hidden costs with creative clickbait can lead to an increase in return orders and bad online reviews. And as a brand, what you can end up doing is signal your desperation to get customers.

With misleading clickbait, you're screaming, "Any customer will do."

When drafting any piece of communication, a consumer’s sense-making ability should not be taken for granted. Sooner or later, they will catch up. Even though using clickbait to stand out is a perfectly valid tool, overusing it will only make you sound like a bad workman constantly blaming his tools.

You could also read about The Valley of Meh, a previous Stoa Daily edition which echoes the thoughts expressed above.

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