Posted by David on 31 October 2016 | Comments

Going viral can be tricky. It’s the ultimate goal of many content marketers, but the truth is that there are a number of uncontrollable factors that decide exactly what goes viral, and when. Chasing sudden, unexpected internet fame is therefore not necessarily a great marketing strategy.

But what about letting something else go viral for you and then piggybacking off its success? This is the basic principle behind newsjacking – a practice that can be highly effective at generating traffic and shares for your business when used correctly.

It is not without its pitfalls, some of which can be quite large. So what exactly is newsjacking, how do you do it, and what do you need to be careful of?

Make breaking news work for your company

Newsjacking is the process of leveraging news in order to raise awareness of your brand or product. The idea is that the media is already reporting on a certain story or event, so by linking your marketing into that coverage you can siphon off some of that interest to boost your own exposure.

People really started talking about newsjacking after the 2013 Superbowl, when Oreo’s marketing team demonstrated lightning-fast wit in reaction to an unexpected blackout. The outage disrupted the event for 30 minutes, and Oreo quickly tweeted a picture of one of their cookies on a dark background with the phrase ‘You can still dunk in the dark’. The update was retweeted over 15,000 times and picked up by scores of news outlets, gaining Oreo a huge amount of publicity.

The dangers of newsjacking

The pitfalls of newsjacking gone wrong range from mild embarrassment to full-blown scandal. An ill-conceived or unjustified newsjack is easy to spot and is likely to put social media users and your target audience off. People as a rule dislike attention seeking; a poor attempt at newsjacking will come off as just that.

But the real danger of newsjacking is the possibility of getting into some serious hot water. This is perhaps no better illustrated than by the case of Miracle Mattress, a store in Texas which had to shut indefinitely due to the backlash from one particularly tasteless advert. To coincide with the 15th anniversary of the tragic 9/11 terrorist attacks, Miracle Mattress shared a video advertising their latest mattress sale, which ended with two staff members falling and knocking over two towers of stacked mattresses.

Unsurprisingly this caused widespread fury. Gap and Urban Outfitters have also been caught out by newsjacking gone wrong after they shared Twitter messages during Hurricane Sandy.

How to get newsjacking right

Obviously the tale of Miracle Mattress is a very extreme one, and most people would have the sense not to go anywhere near such a horrific and sensitive topic for marketing purposes. But thinking carefully about what you attempt to newsjack – and how – is an important step in the process.

If you are planning on giving it a go, here are five things to consider or watch out for:

  • Sensitivity – How controversial is the story you are thinking about capitalising on? Did anyone get hurt, or does it feature incendiary topics, such as religion, race or sexuality?

  • Relevance – Is the story relevant to your business, or is your newsjack relevant to the story? Gap’s Hurricane Sandy newsjack fell flat because it had nothing at all to do with the subject and was simply an attempt to shoehorn a link to their online store into a popular topic using the #Sandy hashtag.

  • Suitability – Taking sensitivity and relevance into account, is the story in question suited to newsjacking? Stories can be too underwhelming to prove worthy of your newsjacking efforts as well. And think about how many other people will be trying to achieve the same thing – are you simply going to get lost amongst the noise if you pick a hugely popular topic?

  • Timeliness – Is the story still fresh enough to bother with? Newsjacking something that is already out-of-date will just make your company seem out of touch. Remember that social media is all about demonstrating to your followers that you can provide them with the kind of information and engagement that is relevant to them.

  • Immediacy – How long do you actually have to prepare, create and share your newsjack? The lifetime of the story will dictate the kind of approach you should take. Social media is great for instantly responding to a breaking story, but as has been seen above you need to ensure you aren’t about to share something that will cause a negative backlash.

Newsjacking doesn’t have to be a spur-of-the-moment response to breaking news like Oreo managed. You can plan ahead; think of all the brands who will have been planning for months how they could newsjack Christmas and New Year, for example. Look ahead for scheduled events, such as film releases, celebrity birthdays or international days of celebration.

A great tool for a savvy brand

Warnings over the dangers of newsjacking shouldn’t automatically put you off giving it a go. The worse case scenario only happens when brands don’t think things through – you can cause just as much offense with a normal planned advertising campaign if you take a cavalier approach.

If you are worried that you might cross a line, start small and pick events that are far into the future. This way you have plenty of time to prepare and think things through.

If you have a blog or social media accounts, you have probably already newsjacked without even realising it. With a little practice and some marketing knowhow, you’ll be on your way to emulating Oreo.

Pick up the phone. See what we can do for you.

SW1 Creative Marketing Studio

Devon Business Park,
Devon, EX15 1BS

Tel – 01884 35577

SW1 Creative Marketing Hub

Ashleigh Meadow,
Cornwall, PL14 3RG

Tel – 01579 550475



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