You may be wondering “what is newsjacking?” In fact, newsjacking is an important marketing practice that involves leveraging current events to create viral messaging and boost brand awareness. In fact, with the growing ubiquity of news content on devices from phones to tablets and beyond, newsjacking is now necessary for brands to contribute to the public conversation and present themselves as engaged corporate citizens. A creative, forward-thinking approach to newsjacking can help companies create remarkable publicity, so it’s important to understand the best types of content to leverage as well as key newsjacking strategies.
Brands should thoughtfully consider which storylines to leverage into newsjacking campaigns, and the risks associated with choosing the wrong ones. The following types of stories can lead to effective newsjacking:
If another company makes a headline-grabbing mistake, it can present an opportunity for brands to capitalize. For example, Peloton aired a Christmastime ad in 2019 that drew wide condemnation for its depiction of a woman receiving a Peloton bike as a gift from her husband. Many viewers called out “contextual sexism” in the ad, and it resulted in financial losses for Peloton. It also led other brands to take advantage. Aviation Gin famously raised its profile by newsjacking the response to the Peloton ad and releasing a clever spot of its own using the same actress from the Peloton commercial. It now has over 6.5 million views on YouTube.
In 2018 and 2019, when President Donald Trump’s desire for a border wall between the U.S. and Mexico resulted in a shutdown of parts of the U.S. government, companies took note. AeroMexico created an innovative campaign around the news. They found Americans who, unbeknownst to them, had Mexican heritage (they consented to DNA tests). Before they knew of their heritage, many of these Americans expressed disinterest or fear about traveling to Mexico. After AeroMexico revealed their heritage and offered travel discounts, many expressed newfound willingness to visit Mexico. The campaign featured a succinct tagline that winks to the news: “There are no borders within us.” According to a submission to the CLIO Awards, the campaign received more than 1.6 billion impressions and over a million YouTube views. It also sparked a 34% increase in tickets sold for flights between the U.S. and Mexico.
The #BlackLivesMatter movement is the latest example of a social justice-focused movement that companies far and wide are trying to leverage to their advantage. In addition, when the #MeToo era began, companies seized it as an opportunity to showcase their values and support. Either way, hashtags play a key role in raising awareness of these movements. Gillette capitalized on the #MeToo movement to call out men’s misconduct and promote gender equity in the workplace and society at large. It launched a now-famous campaign – including a Super Bowl commercial – entitled “The Best Men Can Be”, as opposed to their signature “The Best a Man Can Get”. The campaign received mixed reviews, prompting some to say Gillette seemed “desperate” to tie their brand to the #MeToo movement. This illustrates a risk of newsjacking – brands can open themselves to criticism that may dub them as opportunists. However, the Gillette campaign attracted massive attention and, according to Wired, proved that “the definition of a good man has changed.” That’s the power of newsjacking that can’t be captured in metrics.
Best practices for newsjacking are continuously changing as the nature of publicity changes. However, the following key points can be useful any time a brand is considering newsjacking:
Brands cannot know how to react if their employees are uninformed or underinformed. Marketing and public relations teams should be on the same page, regularly researching news that may be worth newsjacking. In addition, a close following of the news can help brands anticipate events that may trigger news worth using to their benefit.
In all of the above newsjacking examples, the brands directly tied their values and messaging to current events. With Aviation Gin, it was more implicit, whereas the others were plainly obvious. Either strategy can be effective, as long as it’s clear to viewers that there is a tie to a significant news event or social movement.
The news cycle is getting shorter and shorter. Some stories have more staying power than others, but generally, brands need to react as swiftly as possible to garner maximum attention before the opportunity for virality passes. However, companies should be careful that their messaging is vetted before it goes live. Soliciting the help of workplace diversity specialists and experts on social issues may be necessary, as Pepsi famously learned in 2017’s Kendall Jenner spot.
As the news cycle continues to accelerate, stories will become more fleeting and the window for companies to take advantage of them will become narrower. By devoting more resources to following, analyzing, predicting and leveraging the news and how it relates to their brands, companies can realise the benefits of newsjacking. With a watchful eye, marketers can find and foresee stories with viral potential for the brand, and quickly but carefully develop relevant and compelling messaging.
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Thomas Jilk is a Senior Account Executive at Mulberry Marketing Communications, an award-winning full-service B2B communications agency based in Chicago, London and Australia. He uses his journalism and marketing skills to tell compelling brand stories for clients.