Newsjacking. What it is and why it really isn’t the greatest thing since sliced bread.

I’ve been wanting to write this for a while and in light of all this royal baby talk, I think it is time…

Newsjacking, similar to realtime marketing, is a simple thing. The idea is to create a marketing piece in connection with a current news item or theme. This connection vastly increases the online reach of said piece, owing to the media buzz generated over the news item and by extension the marketing piece itself. Two highly successful examples that are often cited when explaining newsjacking are Oreo’s super speedy tweet, in response to the super bowl blackout and Lynx’s cheeky ad referencing Prince Harry’s equally cheeky encounter in a Las Vegas hotel last year.
This is all well and good. Both are examples of very cost-effective, time-efficient social marketing which show what can happen when you combine a good idea with the freedom of the internet. But how often does newsjacking get it right and how do we know people actually care about it?

As newsjacking is inextricably linked to the media and whichever hot news item is creating a buzz at any moment, the assumption is that people are actually interested in these news items. By far the most relevant example right now is the extraordinary media hype surrounding the royal baby and the ensuing brand marketing.

Granted,  it seems like many people do genuinely care about the birth of the royal baby. For the record,  I cared in the sense that I hoped for a safe birth and a healthy baby,  as I would do for any woman on the planet whom I knew of who was undergoing the excruciating pain of childbirth, but no more. There has already been much coverage of the more cynical and cringeworthy efforts of brands everywhere hoping to capitalise on the royal arrival. My hunch is that people will continue to express their cynicism and that in this instance,  several brands may have actually been hurt by their transparent efforts.

Now, the point of newsjacking was never to  engage in a conversation for fear of what might happen if your brand wasn’t present in it.  It was to be one step ahead of the conversation.

To put it in viral marketing terms, it is meant to be the antithesis of a harlem shake video released a month too late and what would be an obvious attempt to piggyback onto a dying viral trend. This is exactly what was wrong with the majority of royal baby real-time marketing; it was cynical, transparent and a lot of it just wasn’t very good *cough*CharminI’mlookingatyou.


The best newsjacking is selective, relevant to the brand’s identity and crucially, it’s good on a creative level. More and more newsjacking efforts are not following this formula and falling short. It comes back to the basic premise of newsjacking, by creating social, real-time marketing, brands hope to engage people on issues that are present in their everyday lives; things they care about. The media may try very hard to, but it does not dictate what people care about or what they find interesting.

This is a fundamental flaw of newsjacking; it relies on the media to determine what news item it should highlight and the assumption that people want to talk about that item.

The backlash that the mainstream media frequently faces for its too-often sensationalising approach, is something that could easily happen to brands who engage in newsjacking on an excessive or irrelevant scale. Beware brands, you are now talking to a new generation of consumers who are increasingly cynical of advertising. It’s not just content that matters, it’s relevant and good quality content. If you can’t step up then it’s best you stay out of the conversation.

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