There is a common Internet marketing strategy called clickbait or clickbaiting which involves:

Provocative or sensationalistic headline text that entices people to click on a link to an article, used as a publishing tactic to increase webpage views and associated ad revenue. Source

This is commonly used in advertisements (such as the one seen below) to generate views, even though the product itself will likely not be purchased and may not even exist. It is also frequently seen on YouTube, either in titles or thumbnails, to generate views for the uploader.

Dermatologists hate her!

However, clickbait also exists in physical form, for example newspaper headlines, magazines and pamphlets. Obviously, the term clickbait originated on the Internet (hence the "click"), so is there a word or idiom referring to physical clickbait and what would it have been called before the advent of the computer?

Mandatory usage example:

Ralph didn't take the newspaper headlines seriously; he knew they were just ________

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    Come-on and hook were once common in ad jargon, with attractor as a less explicit, more scientific-sounding alternative. Commented Dec 30, 2015 at 16:34
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    Just bait ?..
    – ermanen
    Commented Dec 30, 2015 at 18:06
  • the old publishers clearing house mail-ins Commented Dec 31, 2015 at 0:02
  • Your question seems to imply that clickbait always connotes something negative (manipulative or deceptive), however people sometimes use clickbait to mean merely something that attracts interest/clicks. If a sincere message contained a compelling hook in promotion of world peace, could it be clickbait in your mind? (The "povocative or sensationalistic" in the definition you cite; provocative, likewise, is not always used perjoratively.) Maybe your question could be more helpfully answered for your purposes if you specified this. Alternatively, I think the answer has to be quite comprehensive. Commented Dec 31, 2015 at 6:47
  • @JimReynolds: clickbait is negative because the headline is a lie. The headline does not honestly represent the content. It does not matter if the content contains good message or not.
    – Lie Ryan
    Commented Dec 31, 2015 at 7:06

10 Answers 10


These types of lures in advertising can be referred to as "come-ons", as defined (#1) by MW-O:

Full Definition of come–on:

1: something (as an advertising promotion) intended to entice or allure

2: a usually sexual advance

A great example of a come-on that boosted interest and sales for DC Comics is described in Geoff Williams' article in Entrepreneur Magazine:

Company: D.C. Comics Year of the Stunt: 1993

The Stunt: Whether we're talking art or not, D.C. Comics is--yes--a business, generating approximately $40 billion in revenue each year. So it's not surprising that many people felt that releasing a comic book called The Death of Superman was a marketing stunt, given that nobody with half a brain really, truly thought this company was going to stop producing its most popular title, a hit since the Superman character was born in 1938. (According to a recent estimate published in Entertainment Weekly, since that time, Superman has generated some $4 billion in revenue.)

What Happened Next: The news media covered this development extensively, not quite as if a head of state had passed away, but seriously enough, and the comic book featuring his death sold out on the first day. As more issues were published, they kept selling out. In fact, millions of readers purchased not just The Death of Superman issue but numerous others that followed, including Funeral for a Friend and eventually--who would have guessed?--The Return of Superman.

Lesson Learned: If you have a popular product but feel that sales are stagnant or your customers' excitement toward the brand is weaning, it may not be a bad idea to tinker with it. "Well, not so fast," you're probably thinking. "Jump into a time machine and see how people felt about New Coke in 1985." But that wasn't a marketing stunt--it was a colossal business mistake that offered numerous marketing challenges, which Coke eventually conquered, by reverting back to its original formula. Businesses revamp their products all the time, whether it's coming out with a "new and improved" formula that truly is new and improved (unlike Coca-Cola's 1985 misfire). But more often than not, instead of replacing the product, companies now just add new varieties to their line. What Superman and other beloved brands can teach us is that if you can create some drama around your product--and tug at your consumers' emotions--you may just find that your potential for bringing in a profit is, well, super.

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    Yes! This is the term used in the past. OED has the earliest citation in advertisement context from 1934.
    – ermanen
    Commented Dec 30, 2015 at 18:19
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    However, come-on is originally US English. Is it used in British English?
    – ermanen
    Commented Dec 30, 2015 at 18:20
  • @ermanen - "come on", used as a noun in the UK, would likely be interpreted as definition no2 from Kristina's dictionary quote. Never heard definition no1 in the UK.
    – AndyT
    Commented Dec 12, 2016 at 15:23
  • Actually, @AndyT, here in the US, I've heard it used more as def. no2 also. Commented Dec 12, 2016 at 17:32

I found this definition of sensationalism:

Sensational writing or language; the presentation of matters or details of such a nature or in such a manner as to thrill the reader or to gratify vulgar curiosity: as, the sensationalism of the press.

The Century Dictionary and Cyclopedia, 1914

It does not, however, refer to merely physical items. Here's passage demonstrating its usage:

It is pleasant to me to observe, Watson, that you have so far grasped this truth that in these little records of our cases which you have been good enough to draw up, and, I am bound to say, occasionally to embellish, you have given prominence not so much to the many causes celebres and sensational trials in which I have figured but rather to those incidents which may have been trivial in themselves, but which have given room for those faculties of deduction and of logical synthesis which I have made my special province."

"And yet," said I, smiling, "I cannot quite hold myself absolved from the charge of sensationalism which has been urged against my records."

[flourish omitted for brevity's sake]

"You have erred perhaps in attempting to put color and life into each of your statements instead of confining yourself to the task of placing upon record that severe reasoning from cause to effect which is really the only notable feature about the thing.

The Adventure of the Copper Beeches by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle for Strand Magazine; published in June 1892

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    This is a good answer. Would you mind if I made several changes to make it even better though? The first is a change dictionaries to the Century Dictionary and Cyclopedia, 1914 and the other is to add an illustrative quotation of approximately two paragraphs to your answer. That's all I wish to do. I believe it's a very worthwhile passage. I think it would help mucly to demonstrate both the historic and general applicability of the word. Thank you for your consideration.
    – Tonepoet
    Commented Dec 30, 2015 at 19:12
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    I don't know if there're any norms on here about how substantial edits can be, but I don't mind if you add a bit.
    – DyingIsFun
    Commented Dec 30, 2015 at 19:18
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    There are but I believe they're mostly for the sake of respecting the answerer and changing the answer in such a way that reflects poorly on the voters (who may retract their votes after an edit anyway). It's a little more than a bit but I think you'll see the value in it. You can also approve the change directly and decline or revert it if you dislike it. Thank you again.
    – Tonepoet
    Commented Dec 30, 2015 at 19:43
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    The OP gave a dictionary definition: "provocative or sensationalistic headline text . . .", and asked for words to describe the strategy as could be applied to non-digital material. Your answer treats sensationalism, which seems to me circular logic. It also neglects the definition's implied things that are provocative but not sensationalistic. Commented Dec 31, 2015 at 8:02

In terms of journalism specifically, you may be interested in yellow journalism:

Yellow journalism, or the yellow press, is a type of journalism that presents little or no legitimate well-researched news and instead uses eye-catching headlines to sell more newspapers. Techniques may include exaggerations of news events, scandal-mongering, or sensationalism.

This certainly fits your “before the advent of the computer” bill; if I remember my history classes well, this term originated around the Spanish–American war.


How about a hook


"Something intended to attract or ensnare"

Example: from "How to Write a Good Hook" http://bid4papers.com/blog/hook-for-essay/

"When you are asked to write an essay that works, it doesn’t mean it should be boring and too formal to express your thoughts and creative nature. Every author and storyteller will agree with the fact, that you should write for the audience first of all. What does it mean? It means that your task is to grab their attention and make them want to read your essay till the very end.

That’s the reason why essay hooks exist.

An essay hook is the first one-two sentences of your essay, its introductory part, which serves to grab a reader’s attention and let him decide whether he wants to continue reading this essay or not."


For single-word nouns, you could use either:

eye-catcher” (“something that arrests the eye” from ‘Merriam-Webster’) or

lure” (“Something that tempts or is used to tempt a person or animal to do something” from ‘Oxford Dictionaries’).

Ralph didn't take the newspaper headlines seriously; he knew they were just eye-catchers / lures.

Or you could use either of them as an adjective to modify the other:

Ralph didn't take the newspaper headlines seriously; he knew they were just eye-catching lures / luring eye-catchers.

In defense of "lure," here are a couple of headlines/titles that seem to equate “clickbait” with “lure” (the noun):

Forget clickbait: write headlines with real lure (from ‘Mediaworks’) and

Click bait: Forward-reference as lure in online news headlines (from ‘Journal of Pragmatics’ via ‘ScienceDirect’)

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    lure is a good one, and seems etymologically related too, +1 Commented Jan 1, 2016 at 9:15

How about a teaser:

From Merriam Webster:

  1. one that teases
  2. an advertising or promotional device intended to arouse interest or curiosity especially in something to follow

You could consider using tabloidy:

characteristic of a tabloid newspaper; trashy

[Collins Online Dictionary]

It is a pejorative term used to describe some advertisement or articles that are in the style of a tabloid.

The adjective of sensationalism, sensationalistic is synonymous with tabloidy.

Ralph didn't take the newspaper headlines seriously; he knew they were just tabloidy/sensationalistic/trashy.


I suggest Bait and Switch:

"Attracting customers with an item or service and then upselling to a higher level"

This has monetary connotations to sell something better, and there's also the insurance industry standard practice of giving a customer/sucker a lesser policy than they paid for.

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    This is a specific type of clickbait. The OP's example advertisement is clickbait, but does not appear to exemplify bait-and-switch. Commented Dec 31, 2015 at 7:49

Newspaper journalists call them "teasers," particularly the ones that run on the front page to coax readers to "look inside" ("Man Bites Dog, see page XX").


Doesn't apply to newspapers and magazines, but one common form of pre-internet "clickbait" would be "junk mail". This used to be one of the most common forms of advertising, and still exists to a lesser degree. There's also "telemarketing" or "robo-calls" for the telephone-based equivalent. On television, there's "infomercials" that fill the same niche.

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    Junk mail alone isn't always enticing. Marking it Confidential or Contains time-sensitive information is a way to get someone to open it. Commented Dec 31, 2015 at 2:03
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    If you have a mortgage in the U.S., especially a VA mortgage, junk mail still makes up most of your mail. I'd estimate 90% of everything I receive is a mortgage refinance offer, and it always says 'open immediately, time sensitive material inside' with no other detail of what it is. Clearly, this is a lie, since they'll send me exactly the same offer next week and the week after forever, probably well after I've moved and maybe even after I've died considering the mail I get for people that haven't lived here for a decade. Commented Jan 1, 2016 at 0:41
  • -1 Most junk mail isn't the offline equivalent of junkmail. Commented Jan 1, 2016 at 1:51