Since Oreo’s Super Bowl tweet in the dark in 2013, newsjacking has gained popularity with marketers, but it comes with its own pitfalls. In this article, you’ll learn about newsjacking and why you should rely on other marketing tactics.
What is Newsjacking?
Newsjacking is when you leverage a breaking news story or trending social media topic to draw attention to your product or brand.
At first glance, it makes sense to ride the wave of attention that comes with a trend. People are already searching for content related to the news story or topic. Jumping on the bandwagon can draw instant attention to your company.
However, newsjacking has the potential to backfire. What started as a quick response to the day’s trending hashtag can turn into a PR nightmare in an instant.
While newsjacking more often than not causes problems, it can occasionally lead to great results. Oreo is the classic example of this.
In 2013, The Baltimore Ravens won the Super Bowl, but Oreo stole the show.
The infamous Oreo blackout tweet still stands today as one of the best examples of successful newsjacking. The creative team behind Oreo’s Twitter account capitalized on a sudden power outage during Super Bowl XLVII by tweeting a brilliant ad.
Power out? No problem. pic.twitter.com/dnQ7pOgC
— OREO Cookie (@Oreo) February 4, 2013
Within minutes of the blackout Oreo fired off a tweet that read, “Power out? No problem.” The tweet was paired with an ad featuring a backlit cookie and the caption, “You can still dunk in the dark.”
The tweet took off and resulted in 14,000 retweets and over 20,000 Facebook likes. Other popular brands jumped on board by engaging with the cookie’s message. Like this Best Buy tweet for example, “For safe dunking, you can always use the flashlight app on your smartphone!”
— Best Buy (@BestBuy) February 4, 2013
When newsjacking goes wrong
Oreo might have gone down in digital marketing history, but many other companies’ newsjacking attempts have fallen flat on their face. Here are three examples of newsjacking that turned into a PR disaster.
AT&T’s marketing team had the idea to insert themselves into a 9/11 conversation and tweeted “Never Forget” coupled with a photoshopped image of the towers seen through a smartphone screen.
The tweet received instant backlash. AT&T eventually deleted it and apologized saying that the image was meant to pay respect. Unfortunately for AT&T, the internet isn’t quick to forgive when a tragedy is used to promote a brand in poor taste.
The same year that Oreo became a newsjacking hero, Kenneth Cole posted what was potentially the fashion icon’s most offensive tweet (to date), “Boots on the ground or not, let’s not forget about sandals, pumps and loafers.” With the Syrian conflict underway, Cole’s tweet was a slap in the face to the people that were putting their lives at risk.
Cole claims that the tweet was intentionally provocative and meant to start a dialogue about important issues. The internet would argue that it was a shameless attempt at hocking shoes.
The Golf Channel:
On the 50th anniversary of MLK’s “I Have a Dream” speech, the Golf Channel seized the moment to get their followers to talk about – you guessed it – golf. The Golf Channel encouraged their audience to share their ‘golf dream’ using the trending hashtag #DreamDay.
The Twitterverse was quick to point out the offensive misuse of a hashtag meant to honor and discuss Martin Luther King, Jr. The Golf Channel took down the tweet, but never issued an apology.
Understanding the problems with newsjacking
Aside from the obvious issues that newsjacking caused for the companies above, this marketing tactic comes with its own set of challenges for marketers.
You have to be at the right place at the right time, and act fast to make newsjacking work. This means you have to be scanning social media constantly to find a news story that’s trending. There’s no control over when a news story will break that’s relevant to your industry. For example, if you sell accounting software then you would need to wait until a story or video starts trending related to accounting. That doesn’t happen often.
More risks than rewards
As you can see from the examples above, newsjacking can go wrong. Brands like the Golf Channel have deleted their content once there was backlash, but taking down a post only amplifies the mistake. Screenshots and discussion last long after an apology is issued.
News trends are quick to gain traction and just as quick to get buried under the next story. If it bleeds, it lights is a common saying in newsrooms. As soon as another big story breaks, they will cover that. A positive response to a news inspired comment can easily become a flash in the pan. Unless your content is exceptional, it probably won’t have much staying power.
You can throw your content plan out the window if you’re relying on newsjacking. Reacting to trends means your strategy is at the mercy of the news cycle and the audience’s response to it. Once your brand is known for a crude attempt at newsjacking, it can be hard to shake that image. For example, Kenneth Cole may have a foundation that partners with nonprofits to advance public health and civil liberties, but the negative attention from the “Boots on the ground” tweet will be the only thing that some people associate with the brand.
Newsjacking isn’t a reliable or scalable way to generate brand awareness for your startup, since you are basically giving up control to the news cycle.
Instead of engaging in newsjacking, focus your efforts on marketing strategies that can benefit your startup for the long term such as SEO, email marketing, and publishing evergreen content. Bonus, you won’t put your company at risk for a PR disaster.