Two cents blog

Why every marketer should consider ‘newsjacking’

by Paul Cornwell on 7 August 2015

Some would argue that word-of-mouth is the most powerful form of advertising.

An even higher level of marketing utopia is to make the news. As you know, nothing else quite generates conversations like news. Like last night’s embarrassment at the first day of the 4th cricket test against England (which I shouldn’t have even mentioned!), or natural disasters, or the Pluto mission, or a royal birth. News gets massive reach. News gets talked about. News gets shared on social media.

And it’s largely free.

Then someone figured out that if you couldn’t always make the news… well, you could hijack it.  This strategy is called newsjacking and it’s one of the big buzzwords for 2015.

It’s actually been around for quite some time, but now it’s come to the attention of marketers.  The event that probably kicked it off was the 2013 Super Bowl. Picture this:

The Baltimore Ravens were playing the San Francisco 49ers. The Ravens had a 28-6 lead on the second-half kickoff, and the lights went out in the Mercedes-Benz Superdome. Some backup lighting remained on, but play was stopped for about 34 minutes, and the international television broadcast was interrupted.  The Super Bowl had blacked out.  This was massive news.

When viewers and commentators alike grappled with an unforeseen break in the middle of Super Bowl XLVII, the clever people at Nabisco saw an opportunity to help Oreo enter the dialogue in a way that would garner the attention and respect of the brand’s audience. Given the lapse in game-play, the timing was perfect to own the moment. Within minutes, they conceptualised, designed and published a piece of content that was hyper-relevant to the unfolding news.

Embedded image permalink

The message caught on almost immediately. From a single tweet, the brand saw huge impact. The “Dunk in the Dark” image was shared on Twitter and Facebook more than 20,000 times and garnered 525 million earned media impressions – five times the number of people who tuned in to watch the game. Wired magazine declared Oreo as the Super Bowl winner, and Adweek even ranked the tweet as one of the top five ‘ads’ of the night. The ad was also posted on Tumblr by digg, with the note, “Oreo won the Super Bowl blackout.”

Not only did this newsjacking generate huge noise for the brand, it also dramatically improved Oreo’s brand reputation. As a result it won award after award including:

Cannes Lions Awards – Direct: Digital Marketing – Silver Lion

Cannes Lions Awards – Cyber: Viral – Bronze Lion 

One Show Awards – Best Use of Social Media – Gold Pencil

CLIO Awards – Social Media – Bronze

CLIO Awards – Innovative Media – Bronze

IAB MIXX Award – Viral Marketing – Silver

OMMA Awards – Best in Show & Best Viral Campaign

Adweek Project Isaac Awards – Social Media Invention

Golden Award of Montreux – Viral Marketing – Gold Medal

Food & Beverage (FAB) Awards – Viral Marketing – Finalist

Digiday Awards – Best Creative

LIA Awards – Digital Specialism: Viral – Finalist

ADC Awards – Interactive: Online Content – Merit

Effie Awards – Single Engagement – Gold

And other leading brands cottoned on to the Super Bowl blackout opportunity.

Calvin Klein published this Vine video to ‘entertain’ people during the break:


Even a boring laundry detergent Tide got in on the act:

Tide tweet

And other brands have captured terrific opportunities to newsjack.

When Apple purchased the Beats brand for $3 billion, the news media was awash with “Apple Buys Beats For $3 Billion”  headlines, and this news plastered the front pages of websites all across the internet.  Denny’s responded with the perfect topical tweet:

Dennys tweet

When Luis Suarez, the Uruguayan soccer player and serial on-field biter, bit Italian defender, Giorgio Chiellini, during the 2014 World Cup, Twitter went wild, mentioning the bite 339,269 times within the first hour of it happening. Many brands responded to the biting, but none did so quite as well as Snickers, who responded with this:

Snickers tweet

And now Oreo has made this quick response newsjacking a key component of their marketing tool kit.

Look what they released when Kate Middleton gave birth:




Virgin’s newsjacking of the same-sex marriage bill being passed in the United States is another example of cleverly leveraging a major news event. The brand managed to position itself as pro-gay marriage, whilst celebrating the success of those involved, even managing to suggest a holiday flying Virgin. Thumbs up to Virgin for this quick and witty response:

virgin tweet

But beware.  Amidst all the opportunity with newsjacking, there is a very real possibility of getting it wrong in all the haste.  Here are some examples:

Golf Channel tweet Sears tweet KC Tweet


Newsjacking can be a huge opportunity for marketers who are fleet-footed, confident and ‘always on’ when it comes to news and trending topics.

Are you set up for this?  Do you have the resources in place? Do you have the right mindset?  If so, then you might just out manoeuvre your competitors right in front of their very eyes.

Paul Cornwell is a Managing Director at BCM

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