What it Takes to Launch a Fake News Site
Onion Inc.’s Mike McAvoy talks ClickHole and selling satire as viral media.
Last week Onion Inc. launched ClickHole, a site that satires some of the most successful viral content hubs like BuzzFeed and Upworthy. The concept is certainly timely, as shareable content continues to flood everyone’s social feed. But ClickHole isn’t just a clever ploy to poke fun at the current state of media; it’s built to make money. Here, FOLIO: talks to Mike McAvoy, president at Onion Inc. about ClickHole, the state of viral media and what it takes to make fake content marketable.
FOLIO: Where did the idea come from to spin off a separate site like ClickHole as opposed to integrating this sort of content into The Onion?
Mike McAvoy: The idea of doing a separate site was really a natural progression for Onion, Inc. The Onion parodies traditional news, and has been for over 25 years. We introduced the Onion News Network in 2007 as a parody of cable news networks, and we won a Peabody Award. Now, there’s this ‘new media’ that’s changing the way people consume and share information. Who better to parody that than The Onion? ClickHole gives Onion, Inc. a broader scope and allows our creative team to target things that really don’t line up with The Onion’s news voice.
FOLIO: From concept to launch, how long did this project take?
McAvoy: The idea was first introduced by our writing team last fall. Shortly after that, we approached Jack Link’s about bringing this idea to life by becoming the presenting partner. We worked with them in the past, and love their approach to using humor in their advertising. They were excited about the idea and wanted to have ClickHole’s launch date coincide with National Beef Jerky Day. Our product and technology team started working on site design and functionality in March, and we started building our ClickHole editorial staff in April and May. On June 12th ClickHole went live.
FOLIO: Did you have to make any pivots in light of new viral content that was blowing up the Web, like BuzzFeed Quizes?
McAvoy: We didn’t have any editorial pivots. The idea of parodying clickbait sites and this ‘new media’ is a bigger focus than just one or two sites, or one or two forms of shareable content. The goal of ClickHole has always been to parody the entire Internet culture, so we have a big target to take aim at.
FOLIO: Do you think a concept like this is sustainable, meaning do you think the trend of things like listicles will be something you can continue to satire?
McAvoy: I’ve been asked this question a lot since the launch. "Are you ever going to run out of topics to make fun of or to make light of?" The answer is simple: no. Today the trend may be listicles and quizzes, but the world keeps evolving and people keep doing things that are not very smart. ClickHole is set up to adapt to those changes. I don’t see there being shortage of opportunities for our creative team to have fun with.
FOLIO: How did you shop the site to sponsors, and how did Jack Link’s end up as your launch partner?
McAvoy: Once this idea was kicked off, we knew we had to find the right partner, or sponsor, that needed to have an irreverent sense of humor and be comfortable with the kind of content we were creating. We have worked with Jack Link’s in the past. They understood the importance of having a unique content strategy to reach their audience. They are a very self-aware advertiser, and for us, that’s encouraging. Once they heard the idea, and saw the thought process that was being applied to the site, they were willing to bring ClickHole to life.
FOLIO: What is your future monetization plan for the site, and have you set any traffic benchmarks?
McAvoy: Our approach to monetizing ClickHole is the same as all of our properties–create content that the audience loves and that they find genuine, all the while serving the advertiser’s needs. As for traffic benchmarks, we haven’t set a hard number. We are really pleased with the traffic so far, and had over 1-million clicks through the site being live.
FOLIO: Are there any other new projects in the pipeline that you can talk about now?
Nothing that I can talk about, but there are a lot of ideas in the works. More and more brands are seeing that Onion, Inc.’s properties have the built in audience that they are trying to reach. They also see that our Onion Labs team is creating smart, entertaining ways to engage the millennial audience. That combination puts our company in a unique spot, and gives us the ability to explore new ventures, like ClickHole.