The Clinton Herald, Clinton, Iowa

Top News

August 3, 2013

What happens when you actually click on those "One Weird Trick" ads?

You've seen them. Peeking out from sidebars, jiggling and wiggling for your attention, popping up where you most expect them: those "One Weird Trick" ads. These crudely drawn Web advertisements promise easy tricks to reduce your belly fat, learn a new language, and boost your credit score by 217 points. They seem like obvious scams, but part of me has always wanted to follow the link. What, I wonder, makes the tricks so weird? How come only one trick (or sometimes "tip"), never more? Why are the illustrations done by small children using MS Paint? I've never pursued these questions, though, because a fear of computer viruses and identity theft has always stayed my hand. One curious click, I imagine, and I could wake up hogtied on an oil tanker headed to Nigeria.

Thankfully, Slate has allowed me to slake my curiosity, and yours. They gave me a loaner laptop, a prepaid debit card, and a quest: to investigate these weird tricks and report back to you. I also contacted a bevy of marketing experts to help me parse what I found. The individual tricks themselves are peculiar, but the larger trick — of why this bizarre and omnipresent marketing strategy works — tells us a lot about what makes us click, buy and believe.

Newly emboldened, I clicked on my first ad, which promised a cure for diabetes. Specifically, I hoped to "discover how 1 weird spice reverses diabetes in 30 short days." The ad showed a picture of cinnamon buns. Could the spice be . . . cinnamon? Maybe I would find out. The link brought up a video with no pause button or status bar. A kindly voice began: "Prepare to be shocked." I prepared myself. As "Lon" spoke, his words flashed simultaneously on the screen, PowerPoint-style. As soon as he started, Lon seemed fixated on convincing me to stay until the end. "This could be the most important video you ever watch," he promised. "Watch the entire video, as the end will surprise you!"

Text Only
Top News
  • The case for separate beds

    The other night I slept on a twin bed in the guest room of the house I share with my husband and our two kids.
    It was the best night's sleep I've had in years.

    April 17, 2014

  • Raw oysters spike U.S. rise in bacterial infections, CDC reports

    Raw oysters, so good with hot sauce, increasingly can carry something even more unsettling to the stomach: A bacteria linked to vomiting, diarrhea and pain.

    April 17, 2014

  • Consumer spending on health care jumps as Affordable Care Act takes hold

    Nancy Beigel has known since September that she would need hernia surgery. She couldn't afford it on her $11,000 yearly income until she became eligible for Medicaid in January through President Barack Obama's signature health care law.

    April 17, 2014

  • Astronomers spot most Earth-like planet yet

    Astronomers have discovered what they say is the most Earth-like planet yet detected — a distant, rocky world that's similar in size to our own and exists in the Goldilocks zone where it's not too hot and not too cold for life.

    The find, announced Thursday, excited planet hunters who have been scouring the Milky Way galaxy for years for potentially habitable places outside our solar system.

    April 17, 2014

  • Defend 'Obamacare' unabashedly, some Democrats say

    With enrollments higher than expected, and costs lower, some Democrats say it's time to stop hiding from the president's health care overhaul, even in this year's toughest Senate elections.

    Republicans practically dare Democrats to embrace "Obamacare," the GOP's favorite target in most congressional campaigns. Yet pro-Democratic activists in Alaska are doing just that, and a number of strategists elsewhere hope it will spread.

    April 17, 2014

  • Search for Chicago site for George Lucas museum

    As Yoda might say: A site for a museum you must find.

    Those are the marching orders Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel is giving a dozen civic leaders as the city searches for a potential location for an interactive museum to house filmmaker George Lucas' collection of art and filmmaking memorabilia.

    April 17, 2014

  • Illinois unemployment drops to 5-year-low

    State officials say unemployment in Illinois dropped in March to 8.4 percent. That's its lowest level since 2009.

    April 17, 2014

  • Gaming commission rejects Cedar Rapids casino

    The Iowa Racing and Gaming Commission rejected a proposed $164 million Cedar Rapids casino Thursday, saying it would hurt existing casinos.

    Supporters of the Cedar Crossing Casino development have said it would give an economic boost to Cedar Rapids and the region. They also argued it would be a catalyst for development in an area ravaged by a 2008 flood, create jobs and generate millions for tax revenue and charities.

    April 17, 2014

  • Iowa Senate race suddenly more competitive

    A catchy political ad and a gotcha video have raised Republican hopes of capturing the Senate seat in Iowa, a prospect that would greatly enhance the party's chances of regaining control of the Senate.

    Republicans are adding the seat, held for three decades by retiring Democratic Sen. Tom Harkin, to their list of winnable races in the November midterm elections.

    April 17, 2014

  • Evacuation came too late for many on sinking ferry

    An immediate evacuation order was not issued for the ferry that sank off South Korea's southern coast, likely with scores of people trapped inside, because officers on the bridge were trying to stabilize the vessel after it started to list amid confusion and chaos, a crew member said Thursday.

    Meanwhile, the coast guard said it was investigating whether the ferry's captain was one of the first ones off the sinking ship.

    April 17, 2014

AP Video