In the wake of Hurricane Sandy, many brands have been accused of inappropriate newsjacking, which is the practice of capitalizing on breaking news to promote your company’s products or services. Prior to the hurricane, newsjacking was used most recently by marketers to boost brand value in the current election season. Brands like Pizza Hut, Fed-Ex, and 7-Eleven have taken advantage of the country’s political interests and created relevant marketing campaigns that inevitably generate revenue.
In the past few days, several brands have been criticized for newsjack(ass)ing. American Apparel promoted a Hurricane Sandy sale “in case you’re bored during the storm”; Gap received flak for a backhanded tweet about shopping on gap.com; LivingSocial and Groupon have also been criticized.
In times of natural disaster, brands must be sensitive to the needs of their audiences. Since the storm hit, I’ve received a number of email campaign messages from some of my favorite retailers, including Ann Taylor, ideeli, and Birchbox. The messages begin and end with empathy, but somewhere in between they notify us that they are working around the clock to continue to keep everything running as smoothly as possible. While each message is tailored to the individual needs of the audience, all have incorporated one common element: PURPOSE.
Newsjacking Must Have a Purpose
The purpose of newsjacking is to generate buzz about your brand and drive traffic to your website or storefront, but you must play by the rules. PR and marketing professionals have the ability to be savvy and quickly create relevant real-time messages on social networks, videos, and blogs. However, marketing during any national event or tragedy requires an understanding of your target audience, along with a little common sense. It is easy to view national tragedies as marketing opportunities, but you must be careful not to neglect sympathy for those affected by the devastation. How do you evaluate marketing opportunities for your business when your target audience is in crisis mode?
You must know your purpose. Ask yourself the following questions about your brand:
- Does my company offer relevant products or services that will directly benefit the audience?
- Does my company have the mindset to act in real time?
Newsjacking Advice for Marketers
If you can confidently answer yes to both of the above questions, you should take spontaneous action and leverage newsjacking to elevate brand recognition. National disasters and tragedies provide brands with an opportunity to promote themselves by offering value and help to victims. Whether it’s monetary or in-kind donations, volunteers, or services, companies can help alleviate the magnitude of such events. In return, most will receive recognition from their employees and communities. As long as its purpose is legitimate, it will usually be considered acceptable.
Please Donate to Hurricane Sandy Victims
Purpose plays a critical role in my life. If it won’t add value, I usually won’t do it. If a responsibility contributes to my purpose and I can make someone’s life easier in the execution process, it’s a WIN-WIN. Hopefully you’ve learned something about newsjacking and the importance of purpose for your overall brand strategy. I’d love for you to consider paying it forward by donating to one of the following causes: