We love listicles: but do they make good ad copy?

Origin of the word: List + (art)icle.
Are listicles worthy of advertising? It’s a question that needs to be asked simply because they resonate so well with people and that’s what we want for our advertising messages. We want them to resonate? We want them to promote action, but we also want them to be high quality content. Do listicles fit the bill?

Listicles are everywhere: in print, on the Internet, they show up in news feeds, although some argue they’re ‘masquerading’ as journalism. If you see an article headed: ‘The 10 Best …’ or ‘The 5 Most’ … it’s a listicle. The 10 Best Behinds in Hollywood, The 5 Best Orange Veggies For Radiant Skin, 22 Reasons Your Ex-Mother-in-Law Still Hates You: we all know listicles. Most of us have read a few, maybe shared a few., land of listicles, offers some truly bizarre ones. This morning’s was: 13 Photos of Terrifying Shark Eggs! I didn’t read it; wasn’t sure I could handle seeing an egg with the power to terrify me so early in the day. But is this form of content creation credible. Is it serious?

Easy to digest, light on cerebral calories
Webster’s defines a listicle (yes, the word has made it to the dictionary, online at least) as “an article structured in the from of a list, typically having some additional content relating to each item.” Listicles are like popsicles for the soul: guilt-free treats. Colourful, easy to digest, available in a variety of flavours, light on cerebral calories and consumed with no effort. Mostly, they’re just plain fun. You get sucked in because you’ve been wanting to lose weight and the canny listicle language got you: “10 easy ways to lose that last 10 pounds”. The point is, though, it got to you.

My newspaper, a relatively conservative one, also seems to be big on listicles lately. In the last few months, I’ve seen:

  • 3 ways to benefit now from historically low interest rates.
  • How to shake a dynasty in 10 easy steps: the Alberta election and why it all went wrong for the Progressive Conservatives.
  • 10 ways to make people really like you at work

We’re busy. We like reading short, snappy bites that make their point quickly
The jury is probably going to be out forever on listicles, particularly in the realm of journalism. But we love lists and listicles are essentially expanded lists. We’re busy. We like reading short, snappy bites that make their point quickly.  (Think bullet points: there’s a reason we use them. They deliver key points quickly and succinctly.)

The venerable New Yorker sums up our attraction to listicles perfectly: “The article-as-numbered-list has several features that make it inherently captivating: the headline catches our eye in a stream of content; it positions its subject within a preexisting category and classification system … it spatially organizes the information; and it promises a story that’s finite, whose length has been qualified up front. Together, these create an easy reading experience, in which the heavy mental lifting of conceptualization, categorization, and analysis is completed well in advance of actual consumption …”

Hmm! That sounds a lot like advertising’s job. So do listicles have a role to play in advertising? Some say they do!

Listicles are “a great tool to reach consumers”
From an Advertising Age guest post: “… news syndication company Mobiles Republic showed that consumers are “news snacking.” The study showed that while new consumption is increasing, consumers are checking the news for a shorter amount of time. They’re hungry for news but “snack” throughout the day. Listicles can help feed their appetite. It appears listicles are here to stay and advertisers should take note. They’re a great tool to reach consumers.” Why?

I’m summarizing the author here, but I’ve linked to the entire article farther below:

Listicles …

  1. Are social in nature and easily shared.
  2. Engage consumers, typically with something that resonates.
  3. Can reach the right consumer at the right time with the right message
  4. Allow advertisers to be creative.
  5. Can work across platforms.

Listicles are here to stay, and advertisers should take note
Chances are, now you’re thinking about them, you’ll see listicles in places you hadn’t noticed them before. Or at least, you’ll recognize them as such. What’s your take? Listicles have a place in advertising?


About the author: Miriam Hara


Miriam is the Chief Creative Officer and co-founder of 3H Communications Inc., a full service branding and advertising agency. Her experience has enabled her to bring together strategic business savvy with an all-encompassing creative vision to product and service marketing, which she shares here, in her many post. Miriam’s own brand of marketing experience and expertise is the basis of her marketing ebook series including Content Creation Understood, the most recent addition.

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