With social media users producing engaging, shareable or viral content almost every day, it might be tempting to think that your job as a brand marketer is now much simpler. You no longer need to spark the conversation and engage an audience; social networks are already abuzz. All you need to do is join the trend—whether it’s a hashtag, a meme or a viral video.
This technique has given rise to a new buzzword: trendjacking, defined as hijacking a trend to promote your brand. Think of it as a modern word for ‘jumping on the bandwagon.’ Like all marketing approaches, however, trendjacking does not work all the time. That’s where you step in as a brand marketer. Here are some questions you should ask before hijacking a trend:
Is the trend relevant to your brand?
Countless topics trend on social media each day but not all of them will make sense for your brand. Some trends fit your brand perfectly. One trendjacking match made in heaven is fruit producer Dole’s hijack of the viral japanese video 'Pen-Pineapple-Apple-Pen' (PPAP) using a GIF posted on its official channels in Asian markets. Social media users have called it a case of advertising copy writing itself.
The PPAP craze is based on what anthropologist and ethnographer Crystal Abidin calls a blank canvas. ‘PPAP means nothing; it is nonsensical and void of distinct meaning. This thus presents PPAP as a template, a blank canvas onto which viewers can project meaning, and into which viewers can invest creatively,’ she writes. In other cases, joining a trend might be a bit of a stretch.
How long will the trend last?
When Pokemon Go exploded, businesses were quick to ride the trend. Lifestyle brands used the trend to promote outdoor gear. Establishments lucky enough to host the augmented reality monsters posted about them to boost store traffic. Restaurants and cafes scrambled to make their locations ‘Pokestops’ or ‘Gyms’, where players can go to collect eggs or to train their Pokemon.
Businesses that took advantage of the Pokemon Go boom did two things right: they moved fast and invested little. They wouldn’t feel bad now that interest in the game seems to be flattening out. (Read: Pokemon Gone?) We’re not saying you shouldn’t ride a trend that would die quickly, but knowledge of a trend’s life cycle should guide your decisions, especially when it comes to budget.
Do you understand the trend?
The Internet is a place where meanings evolve; not everything there is what it seems. ‘Netflix and chill,’ for example, sounds like a fun activity that involves lounging about and watching movies from the streaming site. If so, it’s a perfect opportunity to promote popcorn or pizza! Many brands fall into that trap, not knowing that among millennials, 'Netflix and chill,' is code for something else...
Jumping on a bandwagon you don’t understand could lead to a disaster. That’s why thorough research is necessary. Find out what the hashtag, meme or viral video is about. Try to anticipate the risks you expose your brand to by riding the trend. You must also understand that in the same manner that you are hijacking a trend, social media can also hijack your hijack of the trend.
Kim PatriaCurrent student in the Master of Marketing program at the University of Sydney Business School.