TODD SMITH’S SPIN CYCLE — ‘Newsjacking’ is latest social media phenom
by Todd Smith
Published: August 22,2014
Anyone remember this famous tweet from Waffle House – “We don’t believe in Belgium Waffles”? It happened during Team USA’s run in the World Cup. As you know, Waffle House got a little notoriety from that soccer success as well. This act of genius coined a new term used frequently by David Meerman Scott, a marketing, PR and ad strategist – called “newsjacking.”
“Newsjacking” is when brands, companies and organizations ride the coattails of breaking news, and become part of the story by leveraging media coverage with social media engagement and stimulating brand awareness. It has become a social media phenomenon that brands and people alike try to leverage for their benefit – with varying degrees of success. It’s like photo bombing an online conversation, and it works well if done properly.
Here are 5 important rules if you are going to leverage your brand through “newsjacking”:
1. Tragedy Doesn’t Sell. From Kenneth Cole trying to sell shoes because people were dying in Cairo to the brands that thought a headline like “This storm blows but free shipping is a breeze” will help sell things during Hurricane Sandy, every social media and PR practitioner across this country should know that there is no place for this in death and destruction. This is a stain of #PRFail that most brands never wipe away because they are inexorably linked with stupidity, callousness and tastelessness. Rule No. 1: “newsjacking” is all about real-time decision making, but more importantly, it’s all about using good judgement.
2. Real Time Means Now. The art of “newsjacking” is the wit to take advantage of a trend or story for your brand. The science of it is timing, as in right before the trend or story saturates the general public. That’s when people lose interest, get tired, or just tune out. When the buzz is initially lifting, that’s the time to move. One of the most repeated examples of quick-witted responses at the ready is Oreo and their little “newsjacking” stunt during the Super Bowl in 2013, known as the #BlackoutBowl. Someone had an idea, so social media and graphic designers got together and did this. The rest is folklore and delicious history. The bottom line went up. Virality was created. And all because someone didn’t hesitate to add humor to a bad situation during the biggest sporting event of the year. Had that happened 15 minutes later? Pass the Chips Ahoy.
3. “Newsjacking” Involves Understanding. The mere idea of “newsjacking” is based on disruption. While everyone is talking about one thing causing the buzz or the trend, you show up, raise a flag, and make people collectively take notice. This can certainly backfire. Take patriotism. Chef Boyardee tried showing his pride and got spanked in the process all because of misunderstanding. It was the D-Day holiday, and while the sentiment was right, the mascot was all wrong. Soldiers dying in the face of a Japanese offensive are not cause for a smiling Spaghettio, as Twitter quickly demonstrated. Be patriotic in times of remembrance; just be absolutely mindful of the context.
4. It’s Not Part of Any Campaign. That’s the thing about “newsjacking” — it involves spontaneous responses. You can’t plan for “newsjacking”; you happen to be a part of it. How nimble is your PR or social media team? You get to put that flexibility to the test during “newsjacking” strategy. A great example is Ben & Jerry’s well-timed tweet that no one saw coming. You know the story: Colorado legalizes weed and the state gets a case of the munchies. Someone had an epiphany, took a great picture of a capsized carton of ice cream, and coupled it with “reports of stores selling out of Ben & Jerry’s in Colorado.”
5. “Newsjacking” Cuts Against the Brand’s Grain. If you are known for saying or doing outlandish stuff, it is difficult to trump yourself. If your brand has a somewhat conservative voice, you are poised for a great opportunity in “newsjacking.” Do you understand your audience? Do you relate? Take the brand loyalty out for a spin and kick the tires. When you think of Denny’s, you think of branded breakfasts and some cheesy advertising. You wouldn’t typically think about college football, which is why this tweet worked. Earlier this year, Auburn lost the national championship in heartbreaking fashion. So Denny’s connected a yellow brick road from the Rose Bowl to any one of 47 locations. It worked.
6 greatest spokescats in advertising history
If anyone needed proof that catvertising has come into its own, it was the announcement earlier this summer that Grumpy Cat – the sour-faced feline who happens to have 6.3 million Facebook fans – will be starring in her own Christmas movie. But just in case Grumpy Cat’s screen test isn’t quite up to Garbo standards, one thing is certain: The cat knows plenty about branding. Then again, lots of cats do. Sure, Grumpy Cat has made all the headlines – and pounced on most of the big endorsement deals – in recent months. These include TV spots for Friskies and Honey Nut Cheerios, two books, and enough branded merch to fill a shelter – everything from plush toys to key chains.
The truth, however, is that the spokescats prowled long before the coming of Grumpy Cat – and even before the Internet. Garfield was the major attitude cat of the 1980s. As the pitch-cat for 9Lives, Morris was turning up his nose at competing brands nearly half a century ago.
Catvertising really roars! Here are the Top 6 spokescats, according to Advertising Age:
1. The Fancy Feast Cat – you know her, all right – that white puff of privilege, served by a liveried butler who summons her with a fork tap on her crystal bowl.
2. Morris the Cat – America’s original spokescat, Morris made his screen debut in 1969 for 9Lives cat food.
3. Garfield – when Alpo (founded in 1936 and famous for dog food) decided in 1987 to start selling cat food, it spent part of its $70 million marketing budget to sign Garfield. Cartoonist Jim Davis’ orange cat – said to be inspired by 9Lives’ Morris – appeared in 2,000 newspapers daily, and was already famous.
4. Maru – who lives in Japan – found YouTube fame by jumping in and out of cardboard boxes.
5. Lil Bub — the cat that the Chicago Tribune dubbed “the Angelina Jolie of online cat films” was actually the runt of the litter – which explains her perennially extended tongue. Somehow, Lil Bub has found time to write her biography, Lil Bub’s Lil Book, which currently enjoys a five-star rating on Amazon.
6. Grumpy Cat – the aforementioned and latest feline sensation.
Golden Mic: Robin Williams was acting comedy gold
Robin Williams, who rose to fame on TV as a memorable alien in “Mork & Mindy” and went on to become an Oscar-winning actor, ended a golden age of acting and comedy with his recent apparent suicide. Although he battled demons of addiction and depression, recent news reports also revealed the early onslaught of Parkinson’s disease. Williams was a larger-than-life actor and was his own brand. Although we may never know the extent of his maladies, one thing is for sure – in a rapidly changing society, he gave us all pause to enjoy great acting and great humor. He made us laugh. He made us cry. He made us think. He made us joyful. And, he gave us a new lens to view the world in a refreshing way. He redefined the Hollywood hero. The Spin Cycle was forever changed by his performance in “Dead Poets Society” – based on life at Montgomery Bell Academy in Nashville, Tenn. – a brilliant film that shined the light on the importance of words, writing, poetry and prose, and changed a generation.
Each week, The Spin Cycle will bestow a Golden Mic Award to the person, group or company in the court of public opinion that best exemplifies the tenets of solid PR, marketing and advertising – and those who don’t. Stay tuned – and step-up to the mic! And remember … Amplify Your Brand!
» Todd Smith is president and chief communications officer of Deane, Smith & Partners, a full-service branding, PR, marketing and advertising firm with offices in Jackson. The firm — based in Nashville, Tenn. — is also affiliated with Mad Genius. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org, and follow him @spinsurgeon.
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