Clickbait, Virality And Why It Matters To Fintech


What is the rocket fuel that will tip customer acquisition of my startup over the edge in order to achieve market domination?  It’s a question that no doubt gives rise to many a sleepless night for your average fintech founder and their band of merry investors.

Of course most founders will say, it starts with a great product.  And while that’s 100% correct, it certainly doesn’t mean fintech startups can or should sit back and simply wait for the money to pour in.  With investment into the fintech sector tipped to surpass $6 billion globally by 2018, there are sure to be plenty of good products hitting the streets.  So in a future market full of ‘great fintech’ what will separate the Apple’s of the fintech world from the Microsoft’s?

Well, it probably has something to do with what separated the Zune from the iPod and the surface tablet from the iPad.  And that’s the ability for great brands (like Apple) to tap into our emotions and go viral.

Aside from Apple, if there is any other industry that understands the power of virality, it’s the world of internet marketing and clickbait.  For those of you not fully across what clickbait is, I can guarantee you that nonetheless you’ve probably been a victim of its seductive power while browsing your local news site or online zine.

Clickbait is often used to describe the sensationalist headlines designed to incentivise readers to click on or share a particular story, generating the originating platforms ad dollars through impressions and further ‘clicks’.  And while the very definition of clickbait remains contentious (this is a great article from The Atlantic if you’re interested in reading more), Wikipedia sums it up nicely with its definition.  The global encyclopaedia claims that clickbait’s aim is “to exploit the “curiosity gap”, providing just enough information to make the reader curious, but not enough to satisfy their curiosity without clicking through to the linked content.”

Now thanks to science, we have the first of what will hopefully be many studies into the nature and causations of virality.  According to research out of the Sorbonne Université in Paris on the virality of clickbaited content, headlines that evoke specific types of emotions in a reader will determine the readers propensity to click the headline, comment on the content and/or share the content with their social network.

To help explain the effect on readers of emotive clickbait headlines and their associated content, researchers used the Valence-Arousal-Dominance model shown below to explain how dominance of an emotion (i.e. a readers ability to control how they felt) affected comments on content verses shares of content.

Valence-Arousal-Dominance model

It turns out that if a clickbait headline and its content invoked feelings of high intensity, regardless of whether those emotions were pleasant or unpleasant, readers were more likely to comment on the associated article.  Typical emotions that are high intensity include anger and excitement.  However if a clickbait headline and its content invoked feelings of low intensity, where readers felt more in control of their emotions, researchers uncovered that they were more like to share the content with their peers.  Content that makes us feel inspired is a good example of content with a low intensity score.  And while it’s certainly not quite as scientific, no doubt you can attest like I can to knowing at least one friend on Facebook, Instagram or Linkedin that finds it necessary to bombard your feed with inane inspirational quotes on a regular basis.  Now we know they are simply victims of their own primitive biology.

So after getting under the hood of what makes great content and ideas viral,  I’ve laid out two ideas below around how I believe this concept could be leveraged effectively by founders and marketers within fintech startups.

Get your target market fired up on the current financial system injustices they face

Below is a list of the most hated bank fees in Australia.

  • ATM withdrawal fees (38%)
  • Monthly account-keeping fees (23%)
  • Credit card annual fees (21%)
  • Fees associated with international payments/transfers (10%)
  • Overdraw fees (8%)

Does your product help consumers and businesses avoid any of these anger inducing fees?  If so, you’ve got a great battle ground and position on which to get an army of content generating some virality for your company and product.

Turn high intensity feelings of fear into feelings of pleasure and astonishment

Does your product tap into the fear of not doing something and paying for it later?  Fear, one of those all consuming, hard to control emotions, scores high on the intensity scale. That makes it a perfect virality vehicle.  One of my favourite finds in the fintech space that tackles this exact emotion is a clever automated savings app out of the US called Digit.  While most of us are afraid we’re not saving enough, some of us don’t even save at all, not knowing where to start, paralysed by fear.  So Digit, rather cleverly, decided to create an app that helped you take those first few savings steps, completely painlessly, without you even really knowing you were saving at all.  It does this by analysing and tracking your daily spend to find ‘savings opportunities’, then squirrels away small amounts of money every other day that it knows you can afford.  It will be interesting to see if Digit can capitalise on this emotion and infuse their content with this message in creative ways to gain viral awareness and uptake of their product.


In many ways, thinking about the potential marketing virality of your product is probably something you should be doing in the very early stages of your venture.  It’s not much help if you’ve already sunk millions of investors dollars into a product that just doesn’t have enough of an inherent virality quotient that’s going to get you the mass uptake you need to be successful.  And the stakes really are high.  Despite all the talk of fintech causing ‘banking disruption’, it never pays to be too arrogant or to forget who you are up against – only some of the most profitable entities in the entire world.  Great product is one thing, but a great viral product?  That’s the fintech touch-down.

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