I’m a big fan of newsjacking. American marketing legend David Meerman Scott, who pioneered the strategy, describes it on his website as “the process by which you inject your ideas or angles into breaking news, in real-time, in order to generate media coverage for yourself or your business.” Brands like Oreo and Arby’s have proven this to be an effective strategy.
Two weekends ago during the Grammy’s, the social team at Arby’s noticed a striking similarity between its logo and the hat Pharrell Williams wore to the show. The team tweeted “Hey @Pharrell, can we have our hat back? #GRAMMYs.” This simple post garnered more than 80,000 retweets and nearly 50,000 favorites, and essentially put @Arby’s on the map in the Twitterverse. This is a prime example of a newsjacking slam-dunk. Arby’s recognized an opportunity to inject its brand message into a breaking news event in a clever way, in real-time. Well done.
Unfortunately, for every case like Arby’s, there are ten instances of brands falling flat on their faces trying. Here are my top three worst newsjacking fails.
A private funeral service was held on Friday, Feb. 7 for Academy Award-winning actor Phillip Seymour Hoffman. The event attracted a flock of paparazzi hoping to snap pictures of Hoffman’s celebrity friends. One such photographer snapped a shot of Amy Adams donning a pre-released handbag from Italian designer Valentino. The brand’s marketing team got its hands on the photo, and used it as part of a tasteless promotion. Valentino distributed a news release with the photo the day of the funeral, announcing the bag’s release date. A PR firestorm ensued, quite the opposite of Valentino’s intended outcome. The brand released a public apology this morning, claiming it was unaware the photo was taken at Hoffman’s funeral.
In September, at the height of the Syrian conflict, a heated debate took place in the political world over whether or not the United States should directly intervene by sending troops to the Middle Eastern nation. Fashion designer Kenneth Cole attempted to newsjack the situation by tweeting “’Boots on the ground’ or not, let’s not forget about sandals, pumps and loafers. #Footwear.” The Twittersphere reacted with outrage at Cole’s classless attempt (you can read some of the reactions here *link) and his brand reputation took a big hit. To make matters worse, rather than apologizing, Cole defended his actions, claiming he was “well aware of the risks that come with this approach.” I’d imagine mothers of US soldiers who considered buying Kenneth Cole clothing thought twice after this news broke.
September 11, 2013 marked the twelve-year anniversary of one of the worst tragedies to take place on American soil. This was naturally the talk of the social media world on that day. AT&T tried to take advantage of the attention by Tweeting a photo of one of its phones taking a picture of the World Trade Center accompanied by “Never Forget.” Customers didn’t react well, viewing this as an attempt to play on the tragedy to boost sales. Buzzfeed writer Ryan Broedrick, for example, tweeted “@ATT your cool photoshop makes the memories of my parents crying in front of the television a lot easier to deal with today.” Ouch, AT&T. Next time, think before you Tweet.
As we’ve seen, when executed properly, newsjacking can be an effective way to create buzz for your brand. On the flipside, it can get your brand into hot water if it isn’t well thought through. The common theme among my top 3 listed is that they all dealt with tragedy. Stay away from tragedy, brands. The risks outweigh the rewards. Use common sense.