Like most new marketing concepts, Newsjacking puts a fresh spin on an old technique: the practice of capitalising on a popular news event to spread an advertising message. Newsjacking developed as a way to take advantage of the massively widespread use of social media channels like Twitter and Facebook. It's a pretty simple concept, but there's a huge difference between a good Newsjacking advertisement and a bad one.
Newsjacking is one of those things that most people have seen in action, but probably didn't know there was an actual term for it. It's when advertising taps into current events, putting a funny or unusual twist on a news item to get people thinking about the brand. Advertisers have been doing this for years, but Newsjacking is different on the internet, because it's happening more-or-less in real time, with 'jacked' advertisements appearing within days or hours of an event, and in some cases while it's still happening.
Good (and terrible) examples of Newsjacking
The ability to spread a message on social media in a very short amount of time makes Newsjacking an incredibly powerful tool when it's used in the right way. Specsavers, for example, has employed this tactic with great success time after time, with advertising referring to an MP's fraudulent expense claims in 2009 and England's 2010 World Cup goal fumble, among others.
Even jokes that are slightly off-colour can be used to create a memorable advertisement, as exemplified by the Mini advertisement that appeared on the company's Facebook page after horse meat was discovered in beef products across the European Union. Mini jacked the story with an advertisement for its sporty John Cooper Works Roadster, with the tagline ‘Beef. With a lot of horses hidden in it.’
As for bad examples of Newsjacking, they're typically the ones that try to piggyback on highly negative events as the US's apparel company, Gap, did when it suggested that people caught in Hurricane Sandy go clothes shopping while they waited for the storm to subside, and thus garnered massive outrage and negative publicity. Obviously, there's a fine line between 'just far enough' and 'too far'. MINI managed to navigate that divide successfully, but piggybacking on Hurricane Sandy, which caused $US700 million in damage and killed two people, was definitely an ill-advised move.
Top tips for Newsjacking success
Newsjacking looks easy, but there are certain elements that are absolutely critical for success.
Choose positive events to put your spin on. Don't make the mistake that so many other companies have made, and attract negative publicity by making light of disaster situations. Alternatively, look at an event like a flood or other natural disaster as a chance to do something positive, like donating goods or services.
Choose events that are relevant to your brand. It's much easier to find something funny or unusual that you can use to sell your brand when it relates in some way to the subject of your advertising.
Timing: perhaps the most important factor for success is getting in on the story at the right time. If you wait until the story is peaking, you're too late to achieve maximum success. Ideally, you want your Newsjacking to hit well before the actual news story peaks. If you time it right, your own advertising can become part of the main story, garnering even more exposure.
This is exactly the sort of thing that a good PR consultant will be able to do well. So, if you have any doubt at all find a PR partner who can help you to get the most out of this powerful technique.