How to newsjack popular trends like the #WorldCup for your brand


By Mars Dorian, {grow} Contributing Columnist

What’s going on here?

  • I recently went to my favorite local Indian restaurant. Same juicy curry, same yoghurt drink, but something had changed since the last time. A collection of colorful, international flags hung from the ceiling.
  • A few days ago, I bought a popular brand of hazelnut nougat creme. The jar’s label showcased “The Miracle of Bern” in BOLD letters.
  • Back at my place, I wiped my butt with toilet paper decorated in soccer balls (the paper, not my butt).

What do these examples have in common? It is that time again when the planet is going crazy over the World Cup and every business wants to be part of it!

Whether you’re selling soft drinks or salad dressing, it seems that everybody wants a piece of the action. The toilet paper I mentioned was not even official merchandise. The brand simply covered their paper with generic soccer balls to tap into the World Cup hype, hoping to make a quick Euro.

This style of marketing is called newsjacking.

Let’s look at this idea today.

1) What the heck is a newsjack?

The term newsjack was coined by UK-based consultants Alex Jenkins and Jon Burkhart and later described in a book Newsjacking.

Newsjacking is the art and science of injecting your ideas into a breaking news story and generating media coverage, consumer buzz, and social media engagement.

Ironically, the term newsjacking was then literally newsjacked by author and PR consultant David Meerman Scott who popularized the term in his own book of the same name, Newsjacking. Go figure.

The main idea is to find creative ways to link your content and products with hot news trends — perhaps by even anticipating them — to gain more media and audience exposure. When breaking news or trends are hot, they receive a flood of attention, which you can channel to your offer.

Here’s an example:

Adult Swim’s cult hit series Rick and Morty prominently featured McDonald’s out-of-order Szechuan sauce in an episode. The gag became a meme and caused the Szechuan sauce tag to trend. The folks at McDonald’s noticed the rising demand and quickly reintroduced the sauce with much success.

Let me give you a personal example of a newsjack:

I wanted to write an article about story lessons. To make the content more appealing, I adapted the lessons to Netflix’s ultra-popular Stranger Things series, which trended at the time. When I released the article 4 Storytelling Lessons You Can Learn From “Stranger Things” it received more views than my past blog posts and brought me a new client.

So, how do you find trends? Hawk through Twitter feeds, up-to-date blogs, online magazines, and Google Trends. Also keep in mind recurring trends, i.e. big sport events or when popular series release new seasons.

A current hot trend is the World Cup, which dominates the media channels and daily gossip, especially in Europe. Let’s use this giant event for the next tip:

2) How to master the timing of a newsjack

Every news cycle fires up, peaks and fades out. Ideally, you want to release your content when the news are in the hot zone, e.g. the breaking news part at the beginning.

The World Cup is a “long’ trend, lasting about a month, which means you have ample time to adapt your content strategy. But beware: the longer and more popular a trend, the more competition you face.

Shorter trends require a faster response. As mentioned before, you have to hawk the news and trend cycles and be able to adapt your content to the ‘event’.

Here’s a fun example: During a black out at the Superbowl in 2013,  Oreo tweeted an image of their cookie surrounded by darkness. The headline:

Power out? No problem. You can still dunk in the dark.

What does a black-out have to do with cookies? Nothing, but if you can put a fun and noteworthy spin on a trending event, you can attract the eyeballs.

But before you jackknife into a sizzling hot trend, read the final lesson below:

3) How to make your newsjack relevant

With so many trending topics to tap into, it’s tempting to just go for it, right? Leech off any HOT trend to maximize ze preciousssss attention.

Well, don’t.

You want to make sure your content (strategy) is:

A) related to the trend

B) relevant to your audience

Bad example:

Writing an article about a hot trend when the content has nothing or little to do with it.

If the content is shallow and only leverages the hotness of a tag, it reeks of click bait. You come across as a sleazy scammer wasting people’s time and trust.

Now clean your palette with a good example:

*cough* Mark Schaefer’s very own case study */cough* : Winning the #WorldCup with Epic Content

The content is related to the World Cup trend by showing how a popular brand (Nike) creates World Cup buzz. The podcast also shares valuable lessons about marketing and is relevant to the target audience. Win-win.


Newsjacking is an effective way to tap into mass attention and channel (some of) it to your product or brand. Have you used it before? If not, will you do so in the future?

Mars Dorian is an illustrating designer and storyteller. He crafts words and pictures that help clients stand out online and reach their customers. You can find his homebase at and connect with him on Twitter @marsdorian.

Original illustration by the author.

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