Shortly after announcing that Prince Harry and Meghan Markle would “step down” as senior members of the royal family, Madame Tussauds wax museum also made news by removing Harry and Megan from a royal family wax exhibition.
However, the famous wax museum’s publicity stunt isn’t the only example of a brand using a news event to get attention or viral attention. In fact, this tactic was used by marketers in the 2000s. It is often referred to as “newsjacking”.
Newsjacking is when a brand or company mentions or creates a campaign that focuses on an important, well-discussed message. It differs slightly from a publicity stunt in that the message is used in marketing, while a stunt acknowledges messages within a public venue or place of business.
Why do brands choose Newsjack instead of creating a completely original storyline for their campaigns? This is simply because this strategy helps them get discovered by adding or piggybacking on larger conversations that are happening online.
In the early 2010s, we saw frequent newsjacking attempts at major television events like the Super Bowl or the Academy Awards. However, as marketers use social media and online channels more often, brands are realizing that new topics are identified faster and newsjack through a variety of content.
If you want to use news, trends, or breaking events to improve your marketing strategy, you may be asking, “How do I get started?” or “How can I do this tastefully?”
If so, a great way to learn about jacketing is to watch how other brands have done it.
Examples of newsjacking
To help you get inspiration, here are some examples of brands that have successfully introduced newsjacking, as well as some takeaways to keep an eye on in 2021.
1. Google’s search year
2020 was a difficult year for many people, mainly caused by the global pandemic caused by the novel virus COVID-19. The spread of COVID-19 resulted in a global health crisis, government shutdowns, and the worst economic recession since the Great Depression.
However, 2020 was also a controversial US election amid a civil rights movement, major climate disasters like the fires in California and Australia, and the deaths of celebrities like Kobe Bryant, Chadwick Boseman, Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg and Alex Trebek. Given the challenges 2020 brought, some thought the year would never end.
Every December, Google shares its #YearInSearch with the trends and events that marked the year. This video promotes the Google brand and the Google Trends feature, a tool that allows users to review and analyze unbiased examples of Google search data.
Due to the unique events of 2020, #YearInSearch was a poignant round-up that explored the issues that took hold of the world. According to Fast Company, the “Year in Search” campaign in 2020 not only differed in terms of content from the campaigns of previous years. “For starters, the 2020 Year In Search video is narrated with a poem written and spoken by Boston-based Ghanaian American Kofi Dadzie. The video also features an original song this year instead of using an existing one The song is called ‘Together’ and was created by Grammy winner Peter Cottontale in collaboration with Cynthia Erivo and Chance the Rapper. “
Google takes a macroeconomic approach from the news and connects the stories of the year with its product. Instead of highlighting search functions or advertising functions, Google leans more towards the mood we share when we go online: our thirst for knowledge. By combining that feeling with artistic input, Google can create a compelling narrative that is not easy to forget.
2. Aviation Gins counter-argument to Peloton
In December 2019, workout bike company Peloton released a critically planned commercial that begins with a husband giving his wife a peloton for Christmas. While the commercial continues to the optimistic sounds of the song “There She Goes”, the woman who has been coined on social media as the “Peloton Wife” films every day for a year. At the end of the ad, she shares the video with her husband – apparently the following Christmas.
Here’s the commercial called “The Gift That Gives Back”:
The commercial was heavily criticized and ridiculed on social media for enforcing outdated gender norms and violating body positivity because many people believe that a husband buying exercise equipment to a woman is assuming she is out of shape.
After the Peloton advertisement – and its instant criticism – hit the internet, actor and American gin owner Ryan Reynolds immediately cast Monica Ruiz, a.k.a. “Peloton Wife,” in a commercial written as a continuation of the Peloton advertisement. In the commercial with the humorous title “The Gift That Doesn’t Return”, Ruiz is sitting at a bar and staring blankly into the camera. She sips emotionlessly and compliments the smooth taste of Aviation Gin, while her supportive friends offer her more gin and make comments like, “You look great, by the way.”
While the ad doesn’t directly mention the workout bike company, Reynolds says the Aviation Gin commercial was a direct response to Peloton. In fact, Reynolds initially tweeted the ad with the headline “Exercise Bike Not Included” and later stated that he rented the Ruiz only “hours” after the original ad started.
“I’ve been there as an actor where you’re doing something that doesn’t quite work. We got it under control, and within 36 hours we were shooting, hacking and releasing this commercial,” Reynolds told The Tonight Show.
Shortly after its launch, the Aviation Gin commercial went viral, receiving over 7.2 million YouTube views and 55.6 thousand retweets on Twitter. It was also mentioned by a number of publications including MarketingLand and AdWeek.
This newsjacking was successful for several reasons. At first, the brand quickly responded to a message with a creative idea. Additionally, the campaign was subtle, professional, and did not directly credit Peloton. In just a few words and pictures, it told a deeper story that was almost funnier than if the workout bike company had directly acknowledged it.
3. Burger King’s “Big Mac-ish” menu
McDonalds lost its exclusive Big Mac trademark after a legal battle with an Irish fast food chain called Supermac’s. While the fast food giant could continue to use the Big Mac title for its sandwich in Europe, the ruling stated that any other company could use the term “Big Mac” for its menus or marketing assets as well.
Burger King took full advantage of its competitor’s legal slip by bringing out a handful of marketing content discussing its own Big Mac-like products.
For example, Burger King released European menus promoting its own “Big Mac-ish” sandwiches, as shown below. It also offered a limited time Big Mac with a flame grill that was claimed to be bigger and tastier than the McDonald’s menu item.
Below is the Burger King menu, which highlights the Big Mac items and the Big Mac copy.
This is a great example of how a company can use news about its competitors in a fun, yet professional, way.
4. Microsoft Teams deal with the NBA
COVID-19 blocked the sports world as many local governments shut down and health organizations recommended social distancing. Sports organizations have faced a challenging fulcrum in complying with these guidelines and ensuring the safety of athletes and the public. Fans wondered how this shift would affect the sports they knew and loved.
When it became clear that many sports organizations would start their season with zero or fewer fans, the question arose how this would affect the experience of both fans at home and those of the players on the pitch or field. After all, players feed on the energy of their surroundings and exercise is as much a mental game as it is a physical one.
Microsoft Teams saw this situation as an opportunity to promote the “Shared Mode” feature, which pulls virtual attendees off the boxy digital screens and into a “virtual reality” where they are together. By partnering with the NBA, Microsoft Teams were able to simulate the experience of a crowd in the stands with virtual participants.
Despite its digital execution, the effect was a sense of community for both audience and players. And Microsoft was able to benefit from presenting its product (in an innovative way) to the NBA audience.
5. AeroMexico’s “A world without borders”
During President Donald Trump’s tenure, the administration tightened border policies while continuing to build a metal wall on the border with Mexico. This has continued to fuel debates over whether the United States, a country historically founded by immigrants, should have such a tight border policy and wall.
That debate culminated when the Trump administration’s request for wall funding from December 22, 2018 to January 25, 2019 resulted in the longest government shutdown ever.
AeroMexico, an airline specializing in routes to Mexico, has followed these debates closely and acknowledged the fact that millions of Americans “did not want to travel to Mexico”.
Instead of changing their strategy or adding routes to other locations, AeroMexico went to a rural town in the US, DNA-tested residents who were in favor of the border wall, and offered them flight discounts based on the percentage of Mexican ancestry that was revealed was their DNA testing.
AeroMexico then ran a commercial where each person gave their views on immigration laws, Mexico, and the Wall.
During the commercial where AeroMexico was interviewing residents, a cameraman asks each of them, “Would you consider going to Mexico?” Their discomfort with the idea of going south becomes clear when they face statements like “No way!” Reply. and “Let these people stay on their side of the border.”
It then showed their surprised expressions as they all learned of their Mexican heritage. Finally, the commercial notes how most of them were interested in catching the discounted flight to Mexico as soon as they were offered it.
“A lot of Americans don’t like Mexico. But … according to the US Department of Homeland Security, Mexican immigration extends into the 19th century and settles in the south – which means a large percentage of descendants in the US don’t even do it, I know it hasn’t yet, “said AeroMexico when submitting the Clio Prize.
“Without a significant budget, our strategy has been to take advantage of the media coverage that President Trump’s government had stalled. So we focused all of our PR resources on spreading our video on social media,” the post added.
According to Clio’s filing, the campaign went viral and received more than 1.6 billion impressions. This also resulted in a 33.7% increase in ticket sales between the US and Mexico.
This campaign and advertisement is a great example of how a company stepped into a political debate and cleverly highlighted a point. It also shows that they are proud of their business and that of Mexican heritage because they are willing to offer huge discounts even to immigration critics of Mexican descent.
The commercial and campaign were so intriguing and thought-provoking that they even won the Clio Award in 2019.
6. Calm’s Election Ads
Emotionally stressful news cycles that involve controversial elections are not ideal conditions for advertising, which is often aimed at creating a positive mood and association.
Viewers in the US watched CNN’s election coverage, sponsored by Calm, a meditation app. In addition to its sponsorship, Calm ran several 30-second ads in the run-up to and on election night.
Calm’s mission is to “make the world happier and healthier” and how can the product be better positioned at a time when people are feeling anxious?
Calm did not use election news in this election campaign, instead showing reassuring ads that served as a strong coexistence at the end of a stressful election season.
Katie Shill, Senior Director Brand Marketing at Calm, said the campaign was successful in an interview with Ad Age. “We saw a positive ROI on TV, a really big surge in organic growth that has really been going on since election night, and a lot of social talk and PR coverage too.” She goes on to say that it was “a super smart media purchase that sparked social conversations that also sparked an amazing wave of PR. We showed up at the right time with the right message and it paid off.”
7. Gillettes “The best men can be”
In 2018 and 2019, the #MeToo movement resulted in a number of high-ranking and sometimes trustworthy men being charged or charged with sexual assault and harassment. High-ranking men who have been alleged include film manager Harvey Weinstein and former Good Morning America co-host Matt Lauer.
This movement was shaped by the #MeToo social media trend launched by civil rights activist Tarana Burke. The movement encouraged women to raise awareness of the prevalence of sexual harassment, misconduct, and assault by sharing stories along with the hashtag #MeToo.
Gillette, who has always positioned her shaving products as “The best a man can get,” wanted to reposition his manhood in the face of the #MeToo movement. To that end, they aired an intense Super Bowl commercial that explored toxic masculinity and the negative stereotypes associated with masculinity.
The commercial opens with images of men looking in the mirror with soundbites of news related to bullying, toxic masculinity and the #MeToo movement. When the ad points to an old Gillette commercial that features a strong man, a narrator asks, “Is this really the best a man can get?” when a young boy breaks through a screen showing the old Gillette commercial while running away from larger male bullies.
The commercial shows various aspects of toxic masculinity, such as texts by male bullies using sentences like “FREAK!” Say a male executive who touches a woman’s shoulder in a meeting and says, “I think she’s trying to say is …” and young children struggling, like their dad says, “Boys will be boys.” “
Suddenly the narrative reads: “Finally something has changed – and there will be no turning back”, while the ad is tailored to clips of the reporting after the #MeToo movement.
The commercials culminate in showing clips of men who have good influences by preventing boys from fighting to stand their ground against bullies and actual footage of a father telling his young daughter that she is strong.
“We believe in the best in men. Saying the right thing, doing the right thing. Some are already big and small. But ‘some’ are not enough. Because the boys who watch today will be the men of tomorrow,” The Advertisement ends.
While the commercial highlighted a controversial point and allowed the company to take a progressive stance on it, its sensitivity still received mixed reviews. While there are both positive and negative reviews, it’s important to include this list so that marketers can learn about both the positive and the effects of newsjacking strategies.
Many who saw the ad felt that Gillette was desperately leaning into a sensitive move to help its own brand.
“Part of Gillette’s motivation for running the ad may be that recent research suggests that millennials are paying more attention to brands with corporate social responsibility appeals,” a Forbes article said. “In this case, it appears that Gillette will learn a lesson about what not to do about corporate responsibility efforts.”
In the meantime, some found that this was a solid advancement in marketing.
For example, one wired post found that the ad, despite its backlash, was an “undeniable sign of progress”.
“Once again, the country seems to be divided. This time it’s not a border wall or a health care proposal fueling the animus, but an online ad for a men’s razor because of course,” the article said by Wired. “But beneath the controversy lies something much more important: signs of real change.”
All in all, it’s important to consider the pros and cons of this example. Although Gillette’s commercial was high quality, scored valid points, and evoked emotion from viewers, it is important to remember that this is a large company that is still aiming to thrive in a society that is very different from society decades ago.
8. Oreos Area 51 tweet
In the fall of 2019, social media users raved about a bizarre plan to raid Area 51, a high-ranking government base that conspiracy theorists say will test aliens.
Oreo took to Twitter and simply joked, “What flavors do you think are hidden in # Area51?” Thousands of users and even other brands replied and shared the tweet.
This is a great example of a brand that inexpensively and quickly referred to new or trending topics for engagement, likeability and brand awareness on a social network. Not to mention, Oreo immediately got people talking about great Oreo flavors on Twitter.
While other brands on this list have embraced newsjacking with high-budget campaigns or commercials, Oreo shows that the strategy for marketers doesn’t have to get too complex, time-consuming, or costly.
Newsjacking takeaways for 2021
With soaring social media and online news posted every second, there are more and more ways that marketers can take advantage of newsjacking.
Before attempting to create a newsjack, however, take the time to review the news and make sure your strategy is tasteful or informative rather than offensive. For example, if you give a funny hint of a bizarre trend like the Area 51 raids, you might be seen as funny or memorable. However, if you publish an insensitive campaign or comment on a controversial topic – immigration for example – you may be considered unreachable.
When creating a creative newsjacking strategy, make sure it’s being carried out by other members of your marketing team and get their feedback to make sure your content doesn’t go wrong.
Editor’s Note: This post was originally published in February 2020 and has been updated for completeness.