It started off as a bit of a joke around the office here at TMP. When writing a listicle, the best way to generate interest is to get a prime number in the headline.
But after a while we started spotting them more and more. In fact, they’ve become such a trend across the web that we decided to do a little digging to see if there was anything to it.
It turns out prime numbers have always been a bit of an enigma.
They seem to crop up every now and then and befuddle us all by doing things like helping us communicate with aliens or keeping cicadas alive, before quietly returning to their regular day job of only being divisible by one and themselves.
Now they’re back and they’re lending their mysterious magic to the marketing world.
So why are prime numbers such a popular headline choice? We think it’s due to three fundamental copywriting facts:
1) People really love reading lists.
With the seemingly endless supply of marketing related information and advice available online, dividing things in to lists makes it easier ‘to make infinity comprehensible.’
It also has a clear advantage for the viewer as it a) gives them at least a vague idea of how long it will take to read, and b) demonstrates an instant guaranteed result: i.e. if you read this, you will learn this many things.
2) Odd numbered lists seem more convincing than even numbered ones.
It’s a strange phenomenon, but statistics suggest that people are generally more likely to read a list consisting of an odd amount of data. This is mainly because people find the unevenness more authentic. Since all prime numbers are odd, this means that you’re more likely to come across them.
But intriguingly, there are also studies that show that the brain automatically processes things in groups of three or five. So even if you don’t actively use a prime or even an odd number, they’re still sneakily weaving their magic in your subconscious.
3) We’re easily wooed by alliteration.
It’s the sort of thing you learn in primary school: if you want a snappy headline, alliteration is your ally. But studies have shown that alliteration actually helps the brain retain information, making your headlines instantly more memorable. And it just so happens that prime numbers work really well with the staples of alliterative listicle headlines:
3 things you need to know…
5 facts about…
7 business secrets…
See what I mean?
So given all that, it may be that the magic marketing power of prime numbers is all just circumstantial. It’s only TMP’s pet theory for now. But why not give it a go and see if it works? We’d love to hear from you either way.
And I should add for my own safety that when I was researching this article I did discover that prime numbers are secretly worshipped by the illuminati, so if I go missing you know who’s to blame.