Friday, May 10, 2013

Why Do We Like Being Mislead?

"This 24-Year-Old Entrepreneur Raised $300,000 By Wearing Dad’s Wool Shirt For 100 Days"

Professor Walrus Wonders Why This Headline Is Successful, When It's Actually Inaccurate and Misleading >

It worked on me, this attention-grabbing headline. I read the story. Not a bad story, but not the story I was expecting, and this bothered me.

The headline has two equal thrusts: 24-year-old entrepreneur raises $300,000 on Kickstarter, which is impressive, but not special. Second, he publicizes the campaign by wearing his Dad's old, presumably smelly shirt for 100 days. Now that's a compelling! We love people who are willing to make fools of themselves, but I suspect we're the ones being made fools of.

I got the story from the Co.Exist Daily newsletter. The 15-word headline packs a lot of information, and I wear wool shirts and have a 24-year-old. As it turns out, the lede is basically correct, but intentionally misleading. What's wrong with it:
  1. The headline accompanies a picture of a slim young man wearing a button-down, tattersall, wool shirt, presumably the one in question. However, it's not a picture of "this 24-Year-Old Entrepreneur, Mac Bishop;" it's a model.
  2. Dad never wore "Dad's Wool Shirt." He manufactured it. Bishop's father is the 5th-generation owner of Pendleton Mills in OR, which controls "85% of the American wool button-down market" and is where the shirt is made.
  3. Wool & Prince, Mac Bishop's Kickstarter-funded startup, exists, because the family turned down the idea. His father's shirt remains the heavyweight, durable, slightly scratchy, lumberjack standard. This is really the son's shirt, lighter weight, more-stylishly cut, much more appropriate for the Kickstarter crowd than the aging, woodsy set (of which this walrus admits to being a member).
If Bishop senior had decided to market his son's shirt, do you think he would have been written up in newspapers, profiled on NPR, and mentioned in Jay Leno's monologue? Not likely. 

But let's not take anything away from the ambitious, younger Mr. Bishop. As a crowd-funded entrepreneur, he seems to be doing everything right. With Wool & Prince, Bishop can rebrand his updated Pendleton shirt and hit just the right markets. It's no wonder he was able to attract so much positive attention and funding, and that's really what this story should be about—good product, great marketing, people want to wear his shirt and are willing to pay money for it.
What about the misleading blog headline? Take your pick:
  • Scratchy Wool Shirt Finds Kickstarter Fountain-of-Youth On the Back of 24-Year-Old Entrepreneur (16 words)
  • This 24-Year-Old Entrepreneur Raised $300,000 By Wearing Dad’s Wool Shirt For 100 Days (15 words)
  • One Wool Shirt, 100-Day's Wear, Washed in Kickstarter, Comes Out Smelling Like $300,000 (14 words)
  • There's Something About The Pendleton Men. Is it the Shirt Worn 100 days? (13 words)
  • Worn 100 Days, the Shirt Makes the Entrepreneur and $300,000 on Kickstarter (12 words)
Postscriptum: It's not a bad article, and I like the slide show with captions at the top of the story. I'd edit it differently and it could be funnier if it were tighter, but I ended up liking the shirt. If it came in Walrus, I'd buy one. I've included the Newsletter teaser to the article, below.

This 24-Year-Old Entrepreneur Raised $300,000 By Wearing Dad’s Wool Shirt For 100 Days

Mac Bishop’s Kickstarter for a miracle wool shirt that doesn’t need to be washed exploded across the Internet. But what you didn’t hear was that Bishop’s dad’s company is the country’s largest wool shirt manufacturer. And you can buy that miracle shirt today--no Kickstarter required.

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