Fatal shootings, civil uprising, terrorist attacks – we profile how marketers have missed the mark when trying to piggyback on news events.

Riding on the coat-tails of a news event to market your brand, tapping into a global story and subtly exploiting it – a.k.a. newsjacking – can be big business. But often such piggybacking can go wrong, resulting in a negative backlash among consumers left disgusted by seemingly cynical attempts to cash in on tragedies. For instance . . .

Sinking Sandy

In 2012, Hurricane Sandy swept from the Atlantic across seven countries, leaving nearly 300 people dead. But this didn’t stop some companies from being jocular about the event:

‘Hurricane Sandy Have You Stuck Inside? 5 Beauty Treatments to Help Ride Out the Storm.’

InStyle Magazine

‘All impacted by #Sandy, stay safe! We’ll be doing lots of Gap.com shopping today? How about you?’

The Gap

‘This storm blows (but free shipping doesn’t)! Today only . . .’

Urban Outfitters

‘Word of the day: “hunker”. We recommend browsing Barneys.com and staying inside today, dear NYers. Be safe!’

Barneys New York

‘18 of Our Favorite Hurricane Sandy Date Ideas from HowAboutWe Members.’

HowAboutWe dating blog promo with a link to its ‘4 Important Survival Tips for You and Your Hurricane Boyfriend’

Arab Spring (Sale!)

Shoemaker and retailer Kenneth Cole thought it might be a good idea to newsjack the uprising in Cairo, Egypt in 2011. He tweeted: ‘Millions are in uproar in #Cairo. Rumor is they heard our new spring collection is now available online at http://bit.ly/KCairo-KC.’ Cue outrage from consumers and a hastily posted apology on the company’s Facebook page.

‘Shooting? What shooting?’

At midnight screening of The Dark Knight Rises in Aurora, Colorado, James Eagan Holmes shot and killed 12 people and injured 70 others. Only hours after the shooting, retailer The CelebBoutique tweeted: ‘@celebboutique: #Aurora is trending, clearly about our Kim K inspired #Aurora dress ;-)’. There was a subsequent online uproar, with the retailer hastily following with a statement that they didn’t know about the shooting . . .

Bottom of the barrel

Newsjacking isn’t a new form of marketing. When the World Trade Center collapsed after the terrorist attacks on 11 September 2001, Quantum Tech dispatched a message two days later with the headline: ‘WTC Collapse Highlights Need for Quantum Tech’s Remote Backup’. The press release went on to detail how one of its customers, Morgan Stanley, had been able to ‘function the very next day’ in spite of its offices being destroyed in the attack because it ‘used an off-site remote backup facility that stored its data safely’. Within five minutes of issuing the release it was retracted, after the company was accused of trying to cash in on the worst terrorist attack in America’s history. The person responsible for issuing the release was subsequently fired.

Newsjacking – the right way

However, newsjacking needn’t always be the car crash that many big names have seemingly sleepwalked into. For instance, when the power went at the Super Bowl in early 2013, the creative sparks at the biscuit company Oreo came up with an ingenious tweet in moments ‑ ‘You can still dunk in the dark’ ‑ which garnered the company instant positive feedback on Twitter and Facebook plus huge media coverage for days afterwards.

How to . . .

If you are considering newsjacking, remember some basic rules to ensure your brand doesn’t end up the scorn of Twitter feeds:

– Think very carefully on the news event itself. Is it really something that you want your brand to be associated with? Could you been seen as either distasteful or cynical, bandwagon-jumping, or just plain desperate?

– There are several different styles of newsjacking; from being the first to ‘break the story’ (like Oreo), through to coming late to the party but with a fresh angle that makes you stand out from the marketing herd that has gone before. Head here for more information on how to maximise the potential of your newsjacking angle.


– Newsjacking is fraught with danger for your company and its brand.

– Your brand’s image could possibly be trashed within hours of your message going viral.

– If you are going to newsjack, make sure you innovate using clever, fresh ideas for your marketing.

Download my eGuide now to learn how to avoid disaster and market in the way that will most benefit you:

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