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Keeping Checks on Substandard Web Marketing

Viral Content Marketing is an increasingly popular activity among media groups and digital marketing freelancers. The rise of forums such as BuzzFeed received widespread critical acclaim. More than anything else, mainstream corporate media giants also began putting up spicy headlines to attract more “likes” and “retweets”.

As one of South Asia’s growing gig economies, courtesy of its burgeoning freelancer community, Pakistan too has witnessed a surge in web marketing. The downside to this development is that the quality of content and techniques used to market it do not necessarily conform to basic journalism standards. In other words, there are no rules and regulations to define the parameters for individuals/organizations which engage in substandard web marketing.

Take the case of Facebook; there are thousands of pages operated by Pakistani freelancers in various categories such as Sales/Marketing, Education, Online News, Entertainment, Lifestyle, Business/Finance, Technology, Health, Religion, etc. What are some of the most common trends you must have noticed among such pages?

Let’s begin first with viral images. These are news, mostly gossips and rumours, written on an image with the page’s logo and slogans such as “Ek like tau banta hay, Upar diye gaye (“Like”) button par click karein”. Then there are sponsored ads on sidebars to the right with strong images and text used to attract viral following. When you click on such links, you will most certainly end up realizing it was all a fake.

Next comes hyperbole promoted through “clickbait” strategies. The term refers to sensitive or provocative content aimed at attracting more website traffic by forcing the audience to click on certain links for more information. There are literally thousands of such pages existing in the Pakistani Facebook community. Page links with captions such as “XYZ ne kardia aisa kaam, sab ko kardia hayraan. Mazeed jaan’ne ke liye yahan click karein” have taken root throughout Facebook. They are literally one of the most pathetic means of web marketing. There are two downsides associated with clickbait strategies; firstly, if one clicks on the link, there will be nothing significant inside (we call it the “much-ado-about-nothing” realization). In other instances, it may also be that the link might lead to an unverified web page infected with a horde of viruses and Trojans.

Interestingly, by late 2014, several mainstream media houses in Pakistan also started adopting such cheap marketing tactics. Daily Pakistan, Dawn News, Express News and Aaj News are among some of the regular employers of such web marketing strategies. More interesting is the fact that this trend is mostly limited to the vernacular press (Urdu). One does not find such tactics being used using English.

Foregoing in view, we believe that the use of substandard web marketing techniques using Urdu is because it caters to a comparatively less educated target audience. Comments underneath such pages and clickbait reveal the generally low IQ level of subscribers. The question is, why have mainstream news channels also emulated this technique despite the fact that they already have a popular following?

The answer, perhaps, comes down to the same reason why individuals run the thousands of “online news” websites: get as much website traffic as possible to increase site rankings and get more ad sponsorships. These marketing tricks are detrimental in the long run because the general audience takes them as severely tasteless, desperate means of getting attention.

There should be a code of ethics for people who engage in such activities. PTA and the Information Ministry should seriously consider this suggestion.

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