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Newsjacking: Sometimes, You Just Have to Break the Rules

Last year, the power went out for over 30 minutes during the Super Bowl, and brands quickly took advantage of the opportunity to newsjack the story. Newsjacking is the name given for injecting your brand into a breaking news story to generate media coverage and social engagement. Perhaps the most well known (and well executed!) newsjacking campaign of last year’s Super Bowl was Oreo with their “Dunk in the Dark” Twitter campaign:

It was timely, it was relevant, it was pure PR genius. And, as of today, it’s received nearly 16,000 retweets. With that kind of coverage, you better believe they sold some cookies during the blackout and beyond. Talk about great publicity!

But what happens when you get bad publicity? Brands frequently miss the mark on newsjacking and face public backlash. Kenneth Cole is one such example. In 2011, Kenneth Cole 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.” The social media world was appalled at KC’s insensitivity, and he issued a public apology.

Why, then, did he send the following tweet in 2013:

This brings us back to the age old question, “Is there really such a thing as bad publicity?” Following the uproar this second time around, Kenneth Cole explained,

Billions of people read my inappropriate, self-promoting tweet, I got a lot of harsh responses, and we hired a crisis management firm. If you look at lists of the biggest Twitter gaffes ever, we’re always one through five. But our stock went up that day, our e-commerce business was better, the business at every one of our stores improved, and I picked up 3,000 new followers on Twitter. So on what criteria is this a gaffe?

So, while many brands have accidentally created “bad” publicity for themselves for being careless, Kenneth Cole made the conscious decision to be controversial in an attempt to stand out – and it paid off! That just goes to show that, sometimes, rules are meant to be broken – but that it’s important to consider how a newsjacking attempt will be perceived, and if that’s in line with the brand. I can’t image that Oreo’s wholesome brand could get away with something like this, but an edgy designer has a little more wiggle room.

Jen Picard Dewar

When she's not doing marketing at Meltwater, you can find Jen snowboarding in Tahoe, traveling abroad, or enjoying a night in with friends and a good bottle of wine. She's a graduate of UCSB with a degree in Socio-Economic and Political Global Studies.

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