Yes, the title is totally clickbait. You probably see clickbait all the time on social media, and sometimes click on the link, while at other times you wish it gave more information and wasn’t a waste of time. It’s a trick, designed to grab your attention and visit the site.

The underlying behavioral technique, however, is fascinating. It’s attempting to engage our natural sense of curiosity, grabbing our attention through sensationalist headlines. Clickbaits are designed to increase page visits and generate higher web traffic.

Government is decidedly behind the times in using an understanding of human behavior, coupled with statistics, to improve its policies and programs. That’s why Denver is so excited to team up with the Behavioral Insights Team through the Bloomberg What Works Cities grant– we can use A/B testing to prove what works before rolling it out, instead of making decisions based on intuition.

Denver’s first use of this technique (with the Behavioral Insights Team’s help) was an email campaign to increase awareness and usage of for DMV license plate renewals. The Denver Marketing Office and Behavioral Insights Team created three different emails, one with a “government speak” message and the others with more colorful language:

Open rates were higher for the catchier emails than for the standard language by 1.9 and 5.5 percentage points (both statistically significant), with over 1,200 more people opening the “said NO ONE EVER” email versus the “gift of time” email:

Pocketgov BIT Results 1

Interestingly, the quirky emails had lower click-through rates (also statistically significant), meaning that people were more likely to open the email but less likely to click on the link to go to

Pocketgov BIT Results 2

Additionally, there was no significant difference in unsubscriptions and abuse reports as a result of this email campaign compared to previous time periods, so those receiving the email didn’t feel strongly about this style of messaging. Overall, we can demonstrably prove that the cheekier content got more attention, which is information Denver can use to improve its communication with citizens and encourage the use of services that make city living a whole lot easier.

“Experimenting with our messaging on email blasts resulted in great insights and will help shape our marketing strategy moving forward. We’ve progressed to using A/B testing in our Facebook advertising and will use the data gathered from both of these tests to inform the messaging for the rest of our marketing materials.”

-Jenny Schiavone, Director, Denver Marketing Office

Peak Academy will provide training on running such evaluations and will coordinate A/B tests with partner city agencies in 2016. Stay tuned for more announcements about other experiments using this technique!


1 Comment »

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s