You may have heard a lot on the web recently about ‘newsjacking’. The terribly destructive ‘super-storm’ that is currently causing havoc on the east coast of the US and Canada has brought this practice to the forefront again as some prominent brands have caused upset by trying to take advantage of the perilous situation many have found themselves in. More about those brand fails later. One definition of newsjacking  is:

‘the practice of capitalising on the popularity of a news story to amplify your sales and marketing success’

Sounds crass right? Probably because it is. But is it only crass when businesses piggyback bad news stories such as natural disasters? Is it ok to do this around positive events or stories?  Is  it just smart (or lazy?) marketing? Perhaps, but it is usually the use of it around negative stories that brings it to our attention.

Newsjacking in practice

Newsjacking isn’t unique to the online world, however the speed and reach of social media and further digital tools have made it an easier practice to exploit.  Lets take a look at some examples…

Gap Piggybacks Hurricane Sandy

Clothing store and global supplier of cardigans and khakis, Gap caused outrage with the newsjack activity below:

Screen-grab courtesy of me.

Gap has ‘jacked’ the hashtag #sandy and published their Foursquare check-in to Twitter in an attempt to grab the attention of people that are using the tag to find out vital information about the storm. A stupid move that has caused a pretty major backlash on the social web. You can see the reaction across Twitter here.

American Apparel In Email Fail

Clothing companies seem to be eager to anger and alienate consumers this week! American Apparel sent out this email offering reduced price gear to those living in states effected by Sandy. Again, there has been a web backlash against the brand. You really have to wonder who signs-off on these activities?

Bored? I don’t think boredom was top of the list of feelings for people caught up in this storm.

Gap and American Apparel now have a PR nightmare on their hands, all down to a lack of thought and a desire to grab some sales. Did they not learn from Kenneth Cole and his Egypt tweet?

What Should Brands Do in Times of Emergency?

This one is easy – be truly helpful and compassionate. Instead of trying to sell more, why not donate product to those that are in need? Just don’t make a big song and dance about it. Brands like Gap have a huge online audience and should look to harness that in a way that is beneficial to those that need help. Pretty simple, common-sense based stuff really; unfortunately It seems that more and more marketers are struggling to apply a bit of gumption to their work.

Should You Ever Use Newsjacking?

Apply some brain-power and creativity and you shouldn’t have to. If you must use it, be sure that any activity is based around a positive event, and even then, make sure it is at least related to your brand.

How does newsjacking make you feel? Do people take it too seriously? Have you been caught up in Sandy and have an opinion on the actions of Gap etc? Please do comment below.

Mike McGrail

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Dictionary image credit – Greeblie on Flickr

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