Blunders

The Dangers of Newsjacking: How two retailers tried to capitalize on tragedy

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Each year, we all witness cringe-worthy decisions made world-wide by organizations. Heck, there are even annual awards dedicated to the world’s most epic PR failures.

Whether it is an ill-advised Tweet or a poorly researched product name, the PR mistakes that countless organizations have made can certainly teach us a lesson or two.

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Marketing guru David Meerman Scott coined a term called “newsjacking”.

It is “the process by which you inject your ideas or angles into breaking news, in real-time, in order to generate media coverage for yourself.” 

Here are two examples of newsjacking gone wrong.

Hell of a Storm Sale

Now, I am all for seizing opportunities but I would have never thought that a category 3 hurricane could be presented as a marketing tool.

Hurricane Sandy hit New York and New Jersey, the states that were most severely damaged by the tropical storm, in October of 2012. With many dead, millions without power and billions of dollars in damages, the storm was a devastating event for many.

Despite this, retailer American Apparel saw the hurricane as a chance to increase sales on their online store. They used adverts and emails to entice their customers to purchase discounted items during the storm.

As you can see below, American Apparel’s advert suggested, “In case you’re bored during the storm”, come receive 20 per cent off everything.

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Interestingly enough, despite misjudging the appropriateness of tying a promotional offer to a hurricane, American Apparel never apologized. In fact, CEO Don Charney stood behind the retailer’s misguided marketing. He claimed that “part of what you want to do in these events is keep the wheels of commerce going.”

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Many individuals used Twitter and Facebook to express their anger, boycotting the brand or suggesting that the company donate the proceeds of their discounted items to the Red Cross.

Although newsjacking may garner more attention to one’s company, it must be asked what the ethical implications are. The attention may be given to the brand but the effectiveness of the message is lost in the company’s misjudgment.

 #FashionFailure

If you are going to utilize a social media platform, such as Twitter, as a broadcast channel for advertisements then use the platform properly.

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#Aurora trended on Twitter after a tragedy in Aurora, Colorado. A gunman opened fire in a movie theatre, killing 12 and wounding dozens. Individuals payed their respects and offered their prayers and support to those affected by the event using the #Aurora hashtag.

Clothing retailer Celebboutique.com missed the memo. They decided to post this tweet instead:

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The tweet was followed by numerous apologies after the retailer realized the insensitive play they had just made about a horrific event.

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Unfortunately, their apologies did not make matters any better. Many assumed that the mistake was made because the company’s Twitter feed was set up to scan trends and auto-generate tweets.

However, in one of the apology tweets, the retailer admits that their PR team (real people) is not based in the United States and had not looked for what the trend was about.

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This example takes us to the other side of the Newsjacking spectrum.  The retailer utilized a trend on Twitter to promote themselves.. without even knowing what the trend was or how it could implicate not only their message but also their brand.

Newsjacking represents a shift in the traditional PR model.

Public discourse is now so fast paced and instantaneous. In order to stay ahead of the game, you have to use the goals and penalties to better your favor.