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Trendjacking: The good, the bad and the ugly

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You may not be familiar with the term “trendjacking,” but if you’ve spent any amount of time on social media, you’ve definitely seen it in action.

Trendjacking happens when brands and organizations notice something that is gaining a lot of attention online and then interject themselves into it. One of the most basic ways this is done is through holidays when companies wish their followers a “Happy ________.”

For example, Feb. 22 is National Margarita Day. Go type #NationalMargaritaDay into Twitter (or follow this link) to see just how many companies out there are trendjacking. Go ahead. I’ll wait here.

For marketers, it’s an easy way to start a conversation with followers or to simply gain attention. But there’s a right way to do it and a wrong way. It involves the perfect balance of timing, messaging and execution.

If you’re the social media manager for a Mexican restaurant, National Margarita Day provides the perfect opportunity to connect with your audience. If you’re the communications manager for a church, maybe not so much.

Let’s take a look at some examples of companies that have done this right and oh so wrong in recent years.

The good

Huge events like the Super Bowl are great for companies looking to maximize attention. The key is how to get heard above all the noise and chatter out there.

Oreo set the gold standard of trendjacking back in Super Bowl XLVII in 2013. When the power inside the Superdome went out during the second half, the company’s marketing agency, 360i, quickly pounced within minutes with a simple, but effective message on Twitter: “You can still dunk in the dark.”

Now, brands are prepared. After Philadelphia upset New England in this year’s Super Bowl LII, Duracell was ready with a message for the new champions and their famed battery-throwing fans.

But it doesn’t have to be tied to a single event. Sometimes, spotting the latest hot craze can pay off.

In the summer of 2016, Pokemon Go fever was taking over the U.S. And as gamers were wandering around staring at their phones trying to “catch ’em all,” retailers began taking notice.

The bad

Typically, the bad examples of trendjacking involve trying too hard to connect to a hot trend or event. These often land with a dud and do little to impress followers.

We see instances of trying too hard all the time in content marketing. Just look for the latest cheesy articles about “X lessons learned from [latest big news story/event].” The Winter Olympics provides three easy examples without looking past the first page of Google.

But sometimes, companies completely miss the mark with messaging, and it does more harm than good.

SpaghettiOs learned this lesson when it tried waaaaaaay too hard to connect its brand to remembering Pearl Harbor.

The tweet was quickly removed, but the damage had already been done as Twitter users began to rip into the company for its thoughtless mistake.

More recently, Pepsi got in trouble for its tone-deaf commercial featuring Kendall Jenner. Pepsi tried to jump into the conversation of the Black Lives Matter movement.

The result? Mockery and embarrassment.

The ugly

Still, there’s one company that takes the prize as the worst trendjacking effort of all time. And that dubious honor goes to AT&T.

Back in 2013, the telecommunications giant clearly thought it was being respectful with its remembrance of the 9/11 tragedy.

But inserting a phone into the image as a product placement was a massive mistake and was widely criticized.

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Hopefully, we can all learn from these mistakes. All in all, trendjacking can be an effective way to connect with followers and be a fun part of the conversation.

The key is remembering to stick with the proper balance of appropriate timing, consistent messaging and effective execution.




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