Trendjacking: How Brands Ride the Viral Wave

But should your brand be doing it?

By Kacee Johnson
Blue Ocean Principles

Every day a new hashtag, trend, or buzzword is born into the universe of content. The latest in marketing and PR is trendjacking. Most have never heard of it, or maybe they understand the concept but don’t necessarily know the name of the practice.

Trendjacking: The Milwaukee Brewers jump on #StarWarsDay

What is trendjacking? Essentially, trendjacking is simply the act of capitalizing on a present trend in the news or social media order to boost a company or personal brand. You could call it a cultivated form of viral marketing, but this term is going to be around for awhile. Trendjacking can be a good thing or a bad thing, depending on the context of the message and how your audience receives it.  If used correctly, trendjacking can equal free publicity and create a brand as a subject matter expert.

A prime example of trendjacking is Star Wars and the hashtag #StarWarsDay. The Milwaukee Brewers have been the most recent to hop on that hashtag. Social platforms had brands ranging from light bulb manufacturers, sandwich shops, and even Hootsuite jumping on the trend to forward their own message.

Mobile has made us all uber-connected and, with that, we require more out of advertising to really get our attention. Data and information are coming at consumers from all avenues and all the time. Companies are reaching consumers through social media, and viewers are responding to socially smart brands that seem relevant to their likes and dislikes. It is a big part of a client-centric brand.

A significant component to trendjacking is playing around with culture. By modifying the meaning or importance of a trend, a brand stands to accentuate its own distinctive point of view in the grander cultural context. This is the spirit of brand positioning.

Throughout time, people have re-invented cultural trends. Another example of a brilliant tactic in trendjacking comes from LaCroix; they utilized the buzzword Millennial to start a campaign on why you should stock your company fridge with LaCroix. “Want the hottest millennial talent waiting in line to work for your company? There's a simple solution that costs only $3.99 a case. Stock your fridge with LaCroix. Preferably, Pamplemousse flavor. Kidding. Kind of. You can read the complete article on  Inc.

So should your brand be trendjacking? Trendjacking is a smart move to help gain momentum, get followers and relate to your clients if done right. But make sure it is implemented within the social structures of your own organization and maintains ethics standards without offending anyone. An example of where a brand went wrong with trendjacking is with a DiGiorno Pizza tweet on the hashtag #WhyIStayed and was a discussion about domestic violence. This is considered an epic social fail by making light of a very serious topic:

Another no-no in trendjacking is spamming. If you are posting irrelevant comments with trending hashtags, then it is adding no value and looked at as spam. This can damage your reputation and cause followers to unfollow. If your intention is to utilize trendjacking to make current trends more relevant to your audience, then play around with what’s trending to bring light to your position in a common culture. There is nothing wrong with seizing a trend or re-inventing it. Just be sure that in doing so, you are adding value not taking away from the discussion/topic.

In numerous cases, trends are a reflection of different communities and cultures with a great back story and beautiful nuances. For example, a mistake post by a chocolate maker accidentally launched a widespread tradition in Japan where on Valentine’s Day, the women give chocolate to all the men, then men reciprocate 30 days later, on what is called White Day. For chocolatiers located in Japan, this is now another great sales day. But trendjacking should not rely on luck. Rather, use a country’s outlook as a guideline to guarantee the product will not be ill-received, even if it’s not already a primary product of the community.

Before making any social updates it’s vital you understand the trend’s origin and the public’s sentiment toward the topic itself. Failing to completely understand a trend’s origin can not only lead to some missed opportunities, but can also circulate cultural misinterpretations, or make your brand look superficial which can end up being an insult if you’re not careful. An example of this was when a UK based store noticed #Aurora was trending in 2012 on Twitter, without knowing it was due to the horrible theater shooting where 12 people had died, the business tweeted in regards to the Kim Kardashian-inspired Aurora dress. The tweet generated a large amount of negative statements and conversations around the celeb boutique. Trendjacking can pay off for brands, but sometimes the actual risk may not be equivalent to the reward.

While trendjacking is not new by any means, the client-centric world in which we live in requires paying close attention to the back story of trends and cultural orientations if you intend on making them a part of your marketing campaign, and not creating any negative backlash.

In summary, always make sure you look before you leap, especially in this case so you don’t regret jumping on the trendjacking wagon where millions are watching. Do not rely on others to do the research for you; know exactly what you’re getting into before you jack a trend. And in most cases, if you see something trending be sure to re-invent it quickly as some trends only last a couple of days or hours. So not only do you need to be swift but you must make sure to completely understand the trend as well as its origin.  Happy posting!


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