Sometime in mid-2019, a Facebook event was created encouraging people to raid Area 51, a highly classified United States Air Force facility in Nevada. Area 51 has always been a topic of hushed discussions surrounding UFOs, aliens, and conspiracy theories. OREO, renowned for using trending topics to create content, tried to abduct (if you will) the raid Area 51 trend by starting the following discussion:

Another trend emerged from a TikTok video called OK, Boomer – a phrase that millennials and Gen Zers use as a retort against closed-minded ideas coming from the baby boomer generation. Again, several brands like Netflix, GameStop, Natural Light, and others created humorous content around it to garner social media engagement.

Brands have been using the latest trends to create content in the hopes of going viral and expanding their community in the short run. While plenty of brands don’t shy away from taking a stand against a controversial issue, news, or social cause,  many brands also choose to play it safe for the right reasons.

In January 2019, the #10YearChallenge went viral on Facebook and subsequently on other social media channels. Right from users to celebrities and public figures participated in it. Even brands marked their presence by sharing how they have evolved since 2009. XL Axiata, an Indonesian telecom provider, shared its technological advancement through Instagram stories.

The concept of riding the wave of the latest trends for content creation is not new. Known as trendjacking, a modern reincarnation of newsjacking, uses breaking news or trends in brand content to generate massive media coverage and go viral.

When done right, trendjacking works because it forms an instant connection with your audience an creates a strong brand recall. Be it FMCG, retail, technology, e-commerce, or almost any type of brand, trendjacking works well as long as you follow the right practices.

3 Essential Considerations for Trendjacking

Before you think of hijacking a trend, make sure to run it past these useful three considerations: 

1. Speed

Brands need to act within the small window of opportunity to reap the benefits of trendjacking. As identified by David Meerman Scott, a newsjacking strategist, the right opportunity to trendjack is to create content during breaking news making its initial rounds and journalists researching to find relevant information on the story.

Image source: Newsjacking

This dramatically increases your brand’s chances of getting the eyeballs of both – news outlets and your community.

2. Relevance

How relevant is the story to your brand, persona, and offerings? It is not necessary to jump on the bandwagon to bank on every new trend if it doesn’t fit your offerings and target audience. In several instances, a brand takes a stance regarding a social issue, but it doesn’t work in its favor because it is not relevant to what it does. Overplaying the trend simply doesn’t work in newsjacking.

3. Authenticity

Humor is a key component of trendjacking. The line between being witty and being controversial is a thin one and needs to be tread carefully. The days of any publicity is good publicity are long gone, and brands must stay authentic to their personality. If a trend doesn’t resonate with your values, tone, and voice, it’s okay to sit out.

Why and How Trendjacking Impacts the Brand-Consumer Connect

Trendjacking, in its most fundamental element, is marketing storytelling. Taking what’s relevant at the moment, building a narrative around it with a hint of the brand personality, and present it to the audience.

Storytelling is one of the most effective ways to connect with people as they are entertaining, relatable, and memorable, precisely why trendjacking works. Storytelling lets the brand show its human side, which sometimes gets lost in data, promotional messaging, and other things that don’t resonate with customers. Also, stories get us involved emotionally, which further strengthens the brand-consumer connection.

When considered from the perspective of the AIDA (Attention, Interest, Desire, Action) framework, trendjacking appeals to the people in the attention stage of the funnel. So, it essentially turns strangers into acquaintances and acquaintances into fans.

How to Win at Trendjacking – What Can Work and Fail

By keeping in mind the three essential considerations for trendjacking, here is a four-step framework to make the most of new trends in that limited timeframe:

Step 1: Identify Trends

The fame of trends is volatile, so brands need to act swiftly on the right trends. When managing large brands, the content approval process may take time, as it may have to be run through the legal department. Here are three things you can do to identify trends so that you don’t lose the early momentum:

  1. Keep an eye on the trending/What’s Happening and Explore tabs of Twitter. If you are using a social media management tool, set up streams for industry-relevant hashtags. Depending on the market you serve, keep your explore tab region-specific
  2. Set daily Google Alerts for keywords relevant to your brand. This includes brand terms, industry terms, etc.
  3. Use Google Trends to monitor trending terms. Whenever you find a trend spreading rapidly, run the phrase through Google Trends to see the pattern of adoption. You will also find terms relevant to the trend and locations where it is going viral.

Step 2: Research the Trend Thoroughly

This is perhaps the most important task in trendjacking. The last thing you want to do is make the brand appear opportunistic, insensitive, and ignorant. These words sound harsh, but several brands in the past have made the mistake of creating content without putting much effort in research.

For example, when Egypt faced a political upheaval in 2011, Kenneth Cole made an insensitive tweet about the incident while using humor and plugging the brand into the content.

Image source: Mashable

Although the fashion brand later apologized, the internet is an unforgiving place. You may try to mend your ways through apologies and PR statements, but once you post something online, it stays online forever.

Therefore, always research the context and relevance of the topic with the brand.

Step 3: Decide the Angle

Knowing what you are going to say about the topic will keep you away from the path of clickbait. Deciding the tone, angle, and value should guide you when you are actually producing the content piece(s).

Being clear on the value will act as the goal you are trying to achieve.

Step 4: Produce Content Pieces

Using pop-culture elements to create content around trends dramatically improves your content’s relevance and chances of gaining shares. A few examples of pop-culture elements include memes, quizzes, and humor. For example, although one might not have heard Drake’s Hotline Bling, they would definitely know the following meme if they have spent enough time on social media:

Image source: imgflip

3 Good Examples of Trendjacking

Want to know the right way of hijacking trends? These three examples will serve as a great dose of inspiration.

1. Acting Swiftly on the Trend

While we have talked about this earlier, demonstrated it perfectly. For a word to get its place in a dictionary, it needs to be used continuously for a long time, and it has to have a specific meaning that is commonly agreed upon. When OK, boomer started gaining acceptance across all social media channels rapidly, didn’t waste time in including the word in the dictionary.

2. Tie the Trend to Your Product

Domino’s Pizza Malaysia runs a quirky hashtag called #GamingIsPizzaPartyTime, which it uses to share humorous content around games and gaming consoles while highlighting the brand. With Among Us being all the rage at the moment, the multinational pizza restaurant chain ensured to make it a part of its trend.

3. How About a Friendly Twitter Feud?

Every once in awhile, brands engage in a friendly exchange where they take digs at each other, share banters, or give backhanded compliments to attract users’ attention. For example, in 2012, Old Spice and Taco Bell had a harmless squabble over the ingredients of their respective products. Since then, many brands have continued with this type of trendjacking.

3 Bad Examples of Trendjacking

Brands should always be careful when it comes to using trendjacking for viral content creation. Inadequate research, insensitive humor, and ignorant messaging combined with trendjacking can do severe damage to the brand’s reputation. Avoid capitalizing on calamities, social issues, civil unrest, controversial political decisions, and someone’s demise. Some curated examples of such  of bad trendjacking.

1. Epicurious

As the US was mourning the unfortunate incident of the Boston Marathon bombings, Epicurious saw it as an opportunity to promote the brand. It tied-in its recipes with the incident to tweet the following content. Although the brand sent out an apology afterward, it was too little too late.


PETA’s over-the-top style of promoting their cause has always received harsh criticism. For instance, on Martin Luther King Jr. Day, they tweeted the following content and managed to justify and rationalize their intent to everyone who pointed out the insensitive nature of the tweet.

3. SpaghettiOs

It’s empathetic to show solidarity with unfortunate incidents, but it’s equally important to be careful with the choice of words and imagery while doing so. SpaghettiOs sent a tweet as a remembrance for the Pearl Harbor attack but used a cheerful image of its brand mascot that attracted massive online outrage.

Closing Thoughts

Trendjacking has the potential to go viral within moments, but often, it’s a hit-and-miss opportunity. Trendjacking is surrounded by a gray area, so nothing can promise success or virality. Successful trendjacking helps you reach newer audiences, skyrockets social media engagement, and shows your brand in a positive light. But make sure to keep in mind the considerations and framework when creating content. A little restraint is always better than resentment.



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