Do You Suffer From Formulaic Content Fatigue?
Learn to spot when profiteering replaces originality
Why is there so much formulaic content online?
Instead of showcasing original thinking, all it does is rehash the same old tropes with more or less phony enthusiasm.
The quickest shortcut to clicks and bucks is to cater to our endless appetite for self-improvement, inspirational tips, and of course how to make money online. Listicles that can be consumed in the time it takes to evacuate one’s bowels work well, as does word popcorn.
The latter are pieces that contain more air and blank space than substance or words for easy, guilt-free bingeing that won’t clog up or even engage our brain.
Or lead us to reflection. Instead of encouraging critical and independent thinking, such content promotes groupthink and strengthens echo chambers.
When writing is a money-making exercise devoid of editorial standards or ethics, every word is part of a business strategy designed to yield as much profit as possible.
As a result, the internet is awash with copywriting disguised as creative writing or personal essays, many of which sound the same. Despite being written by different people, those pieces have no distinctive qualities and are interchangeable.
Those words almost always exist to sell something.
More often than not, that something is a human who has turned themselves into both a product and a brand, complete with tagline.
How can we tell the difference between a genuine narrative that comes straight from the heart and one that is hyped up to milk clicks?
Anything dripping with pathos and exaggeration tends to make me feel uncomfortable as it seems to beg for validation. “Look at me”, this kind of copy says, “I have it way worse than everybody else, and if you have feelings, you should compensate me for my misery.” Give me your money and make me feel better about myself, please!
Unsurprisingly, this kind of writing has become a niche, but whose idea was it to weaponize empathy, compassion, and authenticity? And how might this benefit us as a society?
The strength of the personal essay is that it helps humanize universal issues that are often difficult to discuss; it can thus work as a conversation starter. However, many writers are pawning their privacy for clicks without any care for their future selves or indeed those they write about.
Then again, many allege ours is a post-privacy world, something that I wholeheartedly reject as a journalist because the respect of privacy is at the heart of my profession and protected by a strict code of conduct, i.e., ethics.
And if we’re committed to full disclosure and transparency, we can always continue the conversation off the page; I often do. I also try to be mindful of what I put on permanent record in published essays that will live on the internet forever.
When a piece seems to exist purely as a nod to exhibitionism in the race to disclose as much as possible, I can’t help but recoil. To me, shock value and sensationalism will always remain the sworn enemies of informative, thought-provoking content. For example, I really don’t wish to read about what’s oozing from anyone’s nether regions, but I once inadvertently did.
And yet, choosing to address humans’ innate voyeuristic tendencies is a business strategy like any other. Because it’s lucrative, it’s seen as successful and worth emulating.
The pursuit of profit at all costs explains the endless slew of formulaic filler content flooding every corner of the internet.
Even though it invariably lowers platform quality, many choose to write it because it pays, no matter how meta it gets. As a case in point, “paycheck porn” does exceedingly well when it’s presented as inspirational; it spawns innumerable pieces where authors gloat about how much they make writing online, to the point that it becomes the most frequent thing they write about.
Such content pays handsomely, it’s easy and quick to put together, and unsuspecting readers lap it up, so what’s not to love?
Unless we work in an industry where words are our currency, marketing copy isn’t always easy to identify.
Storytelling is the new marketing buzzword. Personal narratives are so powerful many brands co-opt them to sell their products. Thankfully, professionals abide by strict editorial standards and are duty-bound to disclose affiliate links and sponsorships.
And no, marketing and advertising are never about bad writing, quite the opposite. Practitioners are invariably seasoned storytellers who know how to capture attention, spin a yarn, and sell dreams.
Alas, this isn’t the case with internet typists who pepper their copy with brand names while leaving readers in the dark. How can we know what we’re reading when there’s no disclaimer about affiliate links? Are we reading a puff piece for a product? Does the writer have an undisclosed sponsorship deal with a brand? Are they trying to wrangle freebies or discounts from well-know companies by leveraging their reach?
If their social media activity engages the brand, chances are there’s something going on readers aren’t being told.
Kicking the hornets’ nest and exposing bad practice is counter-intuitive. It isn’t the road to riches nor is it a way to endear oneself to those with questionable editorial standards.
Then again, manipulating readers is unconscionable and makes a mockery of writing as a profession.
Writing is a hard and demanding job that calls for the willingness to further our shared understanding of what it means to be a human in the world. It is service, not self-serving.
Legitimacy and credibility also demand linguistic accuracy and respect for those who do us the courtesy of supporting our work.
Lest we forget, there are no writers without readers.
And without honesty, discerning readers are unlikely to stick around once they realize they’ve been played for fools.
I’m a French-American writer, journalist, and editor living out of a suitcase in transit between North America and Europe. To continue the conversation, follow the bird. For email and everything else, deets in bio.