Watercooler: When Newsjacking Goes Right—and Wrong


Incorporating Game of Thrones-inspired gear into product offerings is a practice known as newsjacking. Newsjacking is seen as a near-instantaneous marketing strategy that allows brands to respond to trending issues in real time and generate traffic as a result. Newsjacking requires marketers to remain vigilant about what is going on, whether it’s politics, natural disasters, pop culture or even news coverage—as every second that passes is another opportunity for brands to add their own creative spin. Due to the immediacy associated with newsjacking, its ROI dwindles when a trend starts to cool, but no matter the scale of a company—whether it was recently founded or celebrating 100 years in business—newsjacking is a useful way to attract consumer attention and make your brand relevant.

A simple, but fruitful newsjacking example was Oreo’s Twitter post following a 34-minute blackout during the third quarter of Super Bowl XLVII. The brand posted a graphic with the text, “You can still dunk in the dark,” followed by the caption, “Power out? No problem.” Although Oreo, as a brand, is unrelated to football, the company’s creative word-weaving was a lighthearted and relevant way to call immediate attention to the brand.

But when newsjacking is associated with more serious matters, brands must be hyper-attentive about whether their efforts will be well-received or rejected. In the aftermath of Hurricane Sandy in 2012, Sears tweeted, “Did Hurricane Sandy affect your city? Get your generators, air mattresses & more in one place,” followed by a link. Although the company’s objective was to communicate where consumers could replenish damaged necessities, it was interpreted as cold-hearted, targeting those affected as a way to garner sales, rather than extending a hand to help. The laundry detergent brand owned by Proctor & Gamble, on the other hand, approached a similar circumstance much differently, and received a positive response. In the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina in 2005, Tide launched its Loads of Hope, a volunteer-run, mobile laundromat, servicing those affected.

To ensure your brand stays on the right side of newsjacking, Braze covers five strategies for approaching different happenings, as suggested by leadership strategist David Schulman.

Natural Disasters: Consider what the victims are thinking, feeling and experiencing, and support their needs, if possible. If you’re a retail brand, donate last season’s tees to a disaster relief organization. Don’t try and tell the victims that you know how they feel—sympathize with them instead.

Celebrity Death: Celebrate their memory as you would the death of a loved one. Pay respect to the family and highlight some of the reasons the celebrity was loved in ways that correspond with your brand, but don’t use their death as a way to drive sales. Schulman suggests that in the wake of David Bowie’s passing, a retailer might have offered Bowie t-shirts and donated the profits to an art organization, but says it’s ill-intended to offer Bowie t-shirts to garner sales.

Socio-Political Movements: Support the drive that motivates people to take a stand, and their efforts to encourage others to represent their beliefs, but overall, remain neutral. If mention of the movement does not apply to your target demographic, it’s often best not to do anything.

Election Season: Call attention to people's similarities, rather than their differences. Play with the theme of championship, but represent all candidates equally. Remember: you do not know the political thoughts of your customers, and picking a side could result in lost clientele.

Pop Culture: This is probably the easiest of all—and where Game of Thrones fits in—but don’t be indolent in your efforts. Make sure there is a real connection between the moment, your intentions and your brand, but don't overdo it, as this could hurt brand perception.

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Danielle Renda is associate editor of PPB.

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