Top 10 Reasons Why Top-10 Lists Are Irresistible

Ever since the original Book of Lists was published back in 1977, Americans in general and journalists in particular have been smitten by lists.

Having a hard time getting publicity for your book, company or self?  Generate a Top-10 list and your buzz-appeal will rise exponentially.

David Letterman got the message way back in September 1985 and his Top Ten became a nightly mainstay. Letterman reportedly began his segment as a way of poking fun at People magazine, which is renown for its lists of the best-dressed, worst-dressed, sexiest, etc.

Malcolm Forbes dreamed up the concept for the 400 Richest Americans in 1982.  The original list, he once confessed, was hardly accurate.  But it was a better stab at the facts than any other news organization could muster.

In 1999, Time introduced its annual list of the world’s 100 most influential people.  There are, of course, no objective criteria for determining whether Hillary Clinton should be #18 or #80.  But if Time says she ranks beneath Lady Gaga, then who are we, the lowly public, to question the magazine’s editorial bona fides?

The original bestselling book by David Wallechinsky, Irving Wallace and Amy Wallace  proved that just about any imaginative list could attract an audience.  Their lists included: 12 Men Who Cried in Public (published before #13 House Speaker-elect John Boehner’s election night performance); 13 Blind Musicians; Charles Schulz’s 10 Greatest Cartoon Characters (Snoopy v. Lucy?); 10 People Who Hated Portraits of Themselves; 9 Body Parts You Didn’t Know Had Names; and the 10 Nations with the Most Camels.

The other lesson that Wallechinsky and the Wallaces taught is that there is no magic to the number 10.  Lists often are denary, but the numbers 7, 9, 11 and 15, suffice quite nicely.

For a period of time, I had a client who operates a national plumbing franchise.  Trying to get the media interested in a pitch about plumbers is kind of like trying to get journalists and bloggers to write about molt.  It requires special publicity wizardry.

But turn the topic into a list, and presto chango, water cooler chatter is certain to ensue: Top 7 Items, Other Than Poop, That Clog Your Toilet; Top 8 Ways to Describe Plumbers’ Cracks (hint: Buttocks cleavage is #3); 10 Living Creatures that Surface Most Often in Your Toilet….
Well you get the idea.

So what are the Top Ten reasons why those seeking buzz ought to try Top-Ten lists?

10. - What have you got to lose (other than your dignity).

9. – They are more fun to write than humdrum news releases.

8. – Done well, lists actually convey valuable information, succinctly.

7. – Once you declare yourself a listing authority, you own that particular editorial real estate forever.

6. – Lists need to be updated at least annually, making your buzz machine a perennial.

5. – If you surprise your audience or make them laugh or shriek, they’ll email the list to all their friends.

4. – In many cases, people will actually vie to be included on your lists or to promote their own books, products and services.  When they do, the quality of your lists will only improve.

3. – Journalists and bloggers are incredible suckers for the kinds of lists they can’t dream up themselves.

2. – Lists are public relations alchemy – they transform nickel topics into golden publicity.

1. – If you – savvy professional that you are – have read this far about such an incredibly jejune topic, I’ve more than demonstrated my point.

Dean Rotbart, an award-winning journalist and media relations consultant, teaches a workshop titled: Buzz Snatching: Proven Methods for Grabbing More Than Your Fair Share of the Public’s Attention.  The course is offered through the Wizard Academy in Austin, TX.

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4 Responses to “Top 10 Reasons Why Top-10 Lists Are Irresistible”

  1. Lehi Drew November 12, 2010 at 5:02 pm #

    Ha! I love this. Now I have a bunch of ideas for lists I could do. Hmmmm…. Maybe a list of the most common logical fallacies.

  2. Andrea Reindl November 12, 2010 at 7:43 pm #

    Top 3 reasons you’re right:

    1. People are motivated by the idea of achieving a result….even if it’s only made up (simple creatures really)

    2. We also like the idea of outside acknowledgment that in fact someone has ‘certified us worthy’

    3. As you proved above, it’s a formula that works

  3. Anonymous November 13, 2010 at 5:34 am #

    I like this also,

    and know that I frequently will read a list before just another article.

    well done,


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