Social media

A recipe for newsjacking

When firefighter Mat Riley competed in The Great British Bake Off, it effectively gave permission for the London Fire Brigade to talk about the show, but what are the rules of brandjacking?


More than 13 million viewers watched 30-year-old Nadiya Hussain get crowned as the winner of BBC’s runaway hit television show The Great British Bake Off in 2015, outnumbering not only the number of British people who voted for the victorious Conservative Party that April but also the entire population of Cuba.

More than 251,000 tweets were sent during the hour long finale, according to data company Kantar, equating to an average of 2,095 per minute. With total impressions of more than 37 million, the Twitter conversation during The Great British Bake Off provided ample opportunity for brands and organisations to get involved and engage with existing and potential customers.

Inevitably, in such situations, there were some winners and losers. Laundry detergent brand Persil somewhat tenuously used the #GBBO hashtag during the show’s ‘Chocolate week’ to highlight its ability to remove chocolate stains, whilst cinema group Odeon added little value to the conversation, tweeting an image of a failed cake from Disney’s Sleeping Beauty, with the caption We didn’t enter #GBBO this year but if we had…#GBBOFinal.

The London Fire Brigade, however, who might have otherwise found it difficult to enter the discussion, found it had a perfect reason when it emerged that one of its firefighters, 37-year-old Mat Riley, was in the competition.

If you’re cheeky or on a consumer-level, go for it. In more regulated industries or if you’re a more grown-up company, it’s harder. These things can backfire

‘I don’t think we’d have [talked about it in the same way] if Mat hadn’t been in it,’ confesses Rob McTaggart, senior communications officer at London Fire Brigade. ‘It’s about trying your best to link it back to your key messaging, which for us was fire safety information.’

During Riley’s seven-week tenure on the show, the Fire Brigade live tweeted each episode of the Bake Off and the digital team created a Twibbon to show support for the organisation and their colleague.

‘We had a clear reason for doing it,’ adds McTaggart. ‘But we’re a serious organisation and we didn’t want to take away from that.’

Luckily for the Fire Brigade, there were no serious incidents during Bake Off time, perhaps due to their efforts to remind the public to check their smoke alarms and not leave their ovens unattended. The strategy worked so well that when London Fire Brigade stopped live tweeting following Riley’s exit after a disastrous Tennis cake, they received tweets telling them that they were missed.

‘Newsjacking’, the term coined by online marketing specialist David Meerman Scott to describe the act of injecting brand ideas into a news story, is nothing new to McTaggart and his team, who actively seek out stories in which they might intervene.

For example, when actress Kate Winslet reportedly saved Sir Richard Branson’s mother from a fire on the Virgin tycoon’s private island in 2011, the Fire Brigade quickly produced a campaign offering her firefighting training, which was also aimed at demonstrating that firefighting was a viable career for women and to remind people of the correct procedures in the event of a fire.

The story was clearly aligned with the Fire Brigade’s brand, but this is not always the case. According to McTaggart, before London Fire Brigade sends out its newsjacking messages, it asks itself Is it frivolous? Is it ultimately about our aims and objectives? ‘People want to know you’re doing work that your organisation is supposed to,’ he adds.

George Butler, senior digital consultant at agency Radley Yeldar, agrees. ‘You’ve got to ask yourself How does [the content] meet our corporate goals, what value is it going to bring? Is it going to develop a relationship with the people important to us?

‘If it doesn’t fit with your core story, then it seems irrelevant and like a disruption.’

Indeed, whereas most consumer-facing companies have many examples of newsjacking on their social media sites, B2B companies, whose audiences are more serious and specialist, do not.

However, that is not to say they ignore trends completely. Lockheed Martin, one of the few B2B companies that does tweet about trends, used Back to the Future Day (which commemorated Marty McFly’s trip to 2015 in the film of the same name) to show off its technology expertise, in a blog post examining what the film correctly predicted about the future. This follows one of Butler’s key rules regarding digital output: communications should emphasise your company’s thought leadership.

But even in talking about Back to the Future, Lockheed Martin took on a more serious tone than other organisations like Royal Dutch Airlines, who tweeted an in-flight photograph with the movie quote Roads? Where we’re going we don’t need roads.

‘It depends on the personality of the brand,’ reasons Butler. ‘If you’re cheeky or on a consumer-level, go for it. In more regulated industries or if you’re a more grown-up company, it’s harder. These things can backfire. You should be guided by what your brand is.’

Innocent Drinks is one of the few companies who have cultivated such a conversational tone of voice on social media that they can comment on almost any news event, often without even mentioning their product. When the John Lewis Christmas advert Man on the Moon was released, receiving more than two million views on YouTube in its first day, Innocent tweeted a series of humorous tweets about the fate of the retailer’s previous Christmas character, Monty the Penguin.

Everyone is waiting for their Oreo moment

The smoothie company began by tweeting Monty sits alone in his bedsit, watching the John Lewis #ManOnTheMoon advert, surrounded by empty ice cream tubs. How quickly they forget. There followed six similar tweets which poked fun at the company’s social media strategy, such as Monty calls Innocent. ‘Hi guys. This isn’t relevant to the story, but your social media manager asked me to call and mention smoothies’.

When the Rugby World Cup kicked off, Innocent made a tongue-in-cheek video about brands jumping on what its digital and communities team leader, Joe McEwan, calls the ‘brandwagon’. The video features Innocent’s (fictional) head of rugby, Dan Germain, asserting that the company ‘has been into rugby from the very start’.

‘We’ve shown absolutely no interest in rugby in the past,’ says McEwan. ‘We wanted to lightly poke fun at the fact that suddenly everyone is going to be talking about it.’

In McTaggart’s words, ‘the marketplace is overcrowded’.

‘Everyone is waiting for their Oreo moment,’ says McEwan, referring to Oreo’s viral You can still dunk in the dark tweet during the Superbowl blackout in 2013. The post was retweeted more than 15,000 times and led to the cookie brand being heralded by Buzzfeed as the winners of the Superbowl Blackout. Perhaps what was most important in that instance, however, was not so much what was posted, but how quickly it appeared following the blackout. Agency 360i was charged with helping with content on the night of the Superbowl, when advertisers pay up to $4.5 million for a 30-second slot during the game.

‘We had a mission control set up at our office with the brand and 360i, and when the blackout happened, the team looked at it as an opportunity,’ agency president Sarah Hofstetter told BuzzFeed. ‘Because the brand team was there, it was easy to get approvals and get it up in minutes. You need a brave brand to approve content that quickly. When all of the stakeholders come together so quickly, you’ve got magic.’

Other organisations agree that the support of senior management and speed of decisions are vital to the success of a newsjacking strategy. ‘We’re a confident team,’ states McTaggart. ‘We’re able to get things cleared relatively quickly. We have a lot of buy-in from our senior team.’

For Innocent, the ability to turn things around quickly is largely due to the function being wholly in-house. ‘We can react very swiftly,’ says McEwan.

‘Inevitably, if you use agencies, you have to book conversations weeks in advance.’

McEwan is no stranger to planning in advance, however, with a well-stocked content calendar in his arsenal. He and his team use a combination of planned content, for events such as sports games and anniversaries, and unplanned, unique communications, based off daily trends and news stories. ‘It’s about being socially aware,’ he laughs. ‘I would love to say it was more complicated than that.’

But he notes that brands should not jump into every discussion. ‘I wish brands were a bit more careful and discerning about what trends they jump on. I love social media. It gives us as brands an opportunity to talk to our customers. There’s loads of really good content out there, but there’s also loads of less good stuff – lots of pointless noise that adds nothing to people’s lives. We try not to be part of that problem.  The final test of any tweet or response we send out is Would I tap someone on the shoulder and point this out to them?’

Other tests that Innocent’s posts have to pass are Is this memorable? Would it make your mates laugh? and, most importantly, What value are we adding to the conversation?

In a world where there are more and more ways to reach consumers, you have to make what you do really memorable

‘It should be about adding value, whatever that may be,’ McEwan asserts. This can be done by being useful, or interesting, or simply being funny.  ‘There’s enough nasty stuff happening in the world for me to feel that there’s a role to play in being intelligently humorous.’

As a result of this approach, the feedback from the public is mostly positive. According to McEwan, the sentiment tends to be ‘I hate sponsored posts, but yours are alright,’ which in his view, is the equivalent of getting a gold star in the modern age.

‘In a world where there are more and more ways to reach consumers, you have to make what you do really memorable.’

McEwan believes that success should not be measured by the quantity of content you’ve put out there, but by the number of people who engaged with it. ‘I would rather have five really good posts in a year than spout things day in and day out and piss people off. To build a following, you need to be consistently good.’

A lot of the problem comes from the sheer amount of mediums that are now available to digital managers.

Radley Yeldar’s Butler believes too many companies get distracted by shiny new channels, but should instead concentrate on three areas.

  • Excellence – delivering consistent and compelling brand experiences across every channel.
  • Disruption – encouraging innovative thinking that questions the status quo within your business and sector.
  • Leadership – empowering people, inspiring high levels of performance and creating an irresistible culture of success.

‘Sticking to those areas allows you to maintain focus,’ adds Butler.

Choosing channels is as important as what you say on them, but it should never be the starting point. ‘We start with the idea and work out what the best way of bringing that to life,’ says McEwan. ‘If you start with the channel before you’ve found the idea, you could easily end up making something rubbish.’

For the UK’s best known bacon brand Danepak, the solution was video. On the evening before Bake Off returned for its sixth series, Danepak released a video spoof called The Great British Bacon Off, taking the BBC format to show off its new microwaveable bacon product and find the best bacon sandwich maker in the UK.

Again, the success of this campaign relied on a quick turnaround. The idea derived simply from the pun, which was first conceived at a time when The Great British Bake Off was months away from airing. Returning to the idea ten days before the first show was scheduled, agency Isobel were impressed by the way that Danepak’s owners Tulip bought into it and turned it around so quickly. There were just five days to find contestants and locate a space to film in, meaning that the choice to use its microwaveable Rapid Rashers was made more from necessity, making it much easier with regard to the health and safety restrictions on frying the bacon.

‘We got national coverage in The Mirror, The Star and The Huffington Post, and loads of regional coverage from Bournemouth, Dorset, Surrey and Bristol publications, as well as coverage from Bristol University Facebook pages and blogs (where the winner is a student),’ says Emily Bennett, account manager at Isobel. ‘The campaign has done really well and we’re pleased with the results.’

It also aligned with Danepak’s brand. Their contestants were members of its Serious Bacon Club. Such passion about something as simple as bacon echoes the tone of The Great British Bake Off, a baking competition which has unexpectedly taken off with mainstream audiences and drives many Twitter users, and Mary Berry, to tears.

Whilst Danepak chose a one-off, opportunistic approach to newsjacking, as opposed to Innocent and London Fire Brigade’s strategy of joining the conversation through livetweeting, what is most important is the connection between all three brands and the show.

For Innocent, it is about sharing an audience. ‘An affluent BBC baking show fits with a British smoothie company,’ acknowledges McEwan.

‘Make sure it’s relevant and take that opportunity to link back to your aims and objectives,’ emphasises McTaggart. ‘If people don’t think it’s relevant, it won’t get as much engagement.’

Whilst the mediums may differ, then, the message is clear. Brand consistency is important if you want to avoid half-baked communications and a soggy bottom.

This article first appeared in Issue 101