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Strike While the Iron’s Hot: How to Effectively Newsjack and Trendjack

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Every so often the latest hot topic, be it a new scoop, show, movie, controversial incident with a personality, market craze or political update, would get people sharing their thoughts. In many cases, even TV and radio get involved or personal milestones such as birthdays or weddings run themes in relation to that which is trending.

It could be FOMO or Filipinos just being social animals. But engaging does seem more widespread and easier these days, especially with social media. Responding or reacting to a hot topic is a strategy businesses, organizations and individuals have been practicing for a long time to get their message across or to have a say on what they perceive to be relevant. It can be as simple as a witty social media post or as elaborate as a big publicity stunt.

Which is which?

Newsjacking and trendjacking both try to leverage something current and popular to gain media mileage for a brand, product or personality. They both jump on the bandwagon, so to speak. But the similarity essentially ends there.

Newsjacking
rides a breaking news story while trendjacking capitalizes on trends, the latter being anything from an Instagram filter to a new recipe and can be fleeting or last for months on end. Companies, brands, personalities and even public or government agencies can tap these breaking news or trends to attract the attention of their audience, win more following, create or project an image, or position themselves better or differently.

During one of the ECQ periods last year, a live video of a confrontation between a food delivery rider and a barangay official went viral on social media after the official condemned lugaw or rice porridge as inessential and so would not let the delivery guy through.

The newsjack? After the story broke out, the delivery guy’s employer quickly jumped on the story and made a post on their socials saying that “if food is essential and lugaw is food, therefore, lugaw is essential.”

Soon after posting this, the hashtag #LugawIsEssential immediately caught on and people and other brands joined the bandwagon. Not only did the company make a clear stand on the issue, it also took the opportunity to create an entire campaign out of the incident.[1]

When a popular fast-food chain released a limited-edition meal after a world-famous Korean pop group, different versions featuring different artists sprouted all over social media. The best trendjack of all was that designed by a creative person featuring a meal combo from the fast-food chain’s direct competitor and former endorser. The post was so convincing one of the local celebrities actually ordered said meal over drive-thru only to find out that it doesn’t really exist.

The hashtag #changeoil trended when an engaged woman accused her husband of having an affair with a close friend. The close friend denied the accusation but admitted to accompanying the engaged man to a change oil appointment.

The different reactions to the story resulted in various memes. But one car company went beyond memes with a promo of a free change oil. Its Facebook post on the promo garnered more than 100,000 reactions, 5,000 comments and 42,000 shares.

Reading between the lines
These techniques are not new. Trendjacking is basically the reason why shopping malls put up Christmas decorations and brands launch holiday-themed products as soon as the ber months start. The same reason flower and gift shops are all about romance when February arrives. The scenario is repeated for Mother’s Day, Father’s Day and similar other big occasions in the country, which is why some say such celebrations have come under the influence of consumerism. But let’s not digress.

Entrepreneurs, companies, brands, and marketing, PR and advertising professionals are very familiar with these strategies. Even politicians and celebrities are in on the game. Maybe almost anyone with a product to promote is watching out for the next big holiday news or trend to leverage.

With content now easily created and shared for mileage, it has become more important to be able to discern and evaluate anything or anyone that attaches itself or themselves to anything that is viral or popular. Benefit of the doubt assumes people have the purest of intentions. But scamming is also rampant nowadays that there’s no harm in being careful, and with the pandemic and other global issues, many are asking how businesses and brands, not just governments, would take a stand and contribute to solutions instead of simply getting some publicity.

When Hidilyn Diaz clinched for the Philippines its first Olympic gold, she was naturally — and can be expected — on the cover of every newspaper, tabloid and magazine and the guest on every TV and radio program. Everybody was interested in her. Everybody was excited and happy for her and the country. Everybody must have posted about her on their social media. And why not? Her victory provided pride and hope at a time when the rising number of COVID cases and government inaction were dimming people’s optimism.

But when brand after brand started riding on her success and new-found popularity and pledging rewards and support, questions and doubts also started pouring in. Why are brands suddenly so interested? Why is the government all over Hidilyn and other athletes all of a sudden when it is common knowledge Filipino athletes do not get the funding and support they need from the government? This is, in fact, the reason why many have left the country and looked for training and support elsewhere.

When the community pantries spread all across the country from its small beginning in Quezon City, people lauded the efforts of Filipinos from all walks of life, even those actually in need of help themselves. The bayanihan spirit was alive and strong. But when known personalities started organizing their own similar drives, all sorts of comment came out. Some wondered if the efforts were genuine or just a PR stunt.

Such cases point to the fact that it can be quite difficult to gauge the true motivation behind a newsjack or a trendjack. Most of the time people just go with how sincere the person or action feels to them.

Take the message of Steve from Blue’s Clues, for example. During the children’s TV show’s 25th anniversary, the creators decided to create a video series and brought together its three hosts: Steve, Joe and Josh who entertained three generations of viewers. In one of the videos with the hosts, Steve went solo and did a sweet monologue addressing his viewers — now adults — regarding his abrupt exit from the show years ago. He concluded his speech with, “I never forgot you, ever.” His message elicited a lot of strong response from the viewers (not just the now-grown-up toddlers but also their parents who watched the show with them) because it was deemed heartfelt.

Joining the bandwagon effectively

The key to a good newsjack or trendjack is timing. A breaking news story can stay relevant depending on the succeeding stories that will support or follow the primary news. As for a trend, there is no way to determine its life span. What is viral now can be old news by next week.

One example is the Korean drama Squid Game, which caught massive attention for its quirky elements despite the gory theme. Many brands were quick to draw upon the many content-worthy elements of the show: the costumes, the iconic shapes, the creepy giant doll, the theme song and of course, the games. The series was a hot topic for almost a month before it eventually died down, but that didn’t stop a lot of people from dressing up as the characters for Halloween!

Since one cannot predict how long a news or trend will stay in people’s consciousness, it is essential to strike while the iron is hot. But while there is the need for speed, accuracy and sensitivity also are important. People of the internet are vicious. One wrong move and your trendjack or newsjack will land your brand in hot water.

While piggybacking on a trend or breaking news can be effective, it will not always guarantee good results and a high engagement, unless it is done well.

Keep it on-brand

Just like creating any kind of content, consider whether the news or trend will match the voice, values and/or messaging of the brand, product or personality. It also helps to keep in mind that it is very likely you will not be the only one doing the newsjack or trendjack. So, think about how you can angle your content or execute your idea to meet your objectives while making sure it is different from all the others.

If you think the news or trend is not suitable or will go against the image of the brand, product or person, it might be best to sit it out. It won’t be the last breaking news or strong trend, after all. Jumping on the wrong bandwagon might just lead to problems instead of wins.

Understand the news or trend


Study the topic very well. Not all hot news or trends need a reaction, and not all will help address your communication needs. Some stories might be too sensitive that joining the conversation without properly assessing the implications could just cause trouble for a brand, product or personality.

A South Korean car company shared a post on Twitter featuring the Dalgona cookies of Squid Game. Only instead of the iconic circle, triangle, star and umbrella shapes, the company used its cars outlined in different angles. People on Twitter were not very happy with the content since the main character of the series, Seong Gi-Hun, was previously involved in a labor strike in the car company where he used to work for. Not only that: Gi-Hun’s backstory is actually based on a real story.[2]

Critics say the car company is completely “missing the point” of the series as Squid Game did not shy away from making its stand on capitalism and the class divide between the rich and the poor.[3] 

Gather facts and stay accurate

Back your content with the necessary and up-to-date information. Particularly with newsjacking, using data from credible sources is vital.

Being flagged as fake news is the last thing you want to happen.

Know your community too

Message is king, yes. But the audience plays a key role as well. It is the target audience that influences the type of material or content to use and how to say or frame the message. The audience’s response determines the success or failure of your effort.

What does your audience find funny? Do they enjoy satire or sarcasm? What do your audiences care about? Would they understand what you’re trying to say? Would they find it relevant enough? Or is there a likely chance your message would be thrown out of context?

A news or a trend may be the hot topic for most people. But if your audience does not actually care about it, then it would not be worth the effort to ride that bandwagon.

Prepare in advance

Luckily, you don’t have to always sit at the edge of your seat waiting for a new topic, trend, meme or fashion style to sweep the internet. There will always be something that people will talk about. So just monitor the news and events, and stay updated.

At the same time, there are regular events and occasions that draw interest like the Miss Universe pageant or the Academy Awards. There are also special days such as national holidays and celebrations like the Mother’s Day, National Girlfriend Day, Hugging Day or Pet Day. For such occasions, there will be enough time to plan and prepare content in advance.

Practice caution and sensitivity

Riding a popular news or trend falls flat if by trying to be witty, interactive or in vogue, the content marginalizes other people or communities or simply sends out the wrong message. How many ads have been criticized harshly and their corresponding brands or originators taken to task for being discriminatory? How many personalities have been chided for being insensitive?

Newsjacking and trendjacking have long been effective tools to engage audiences much more actively. There are no hard and fast rules as both are basically reactionary mechanisms to other events or developments. But it pays to do one’s homework.


[1]https://marketech-apac.com/tag/trendjacking/

[2]https://libcom.org/news/death-toll-mounts-after-defeat-2009-ssangyong-strike-15042011

[3]https://www.thegamer.com/brand-twitter-squid-game-adverts-real-life/

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