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3 Newsjacking Fails We Can All Learn From

5 min

When a brand newsjacks a trending story well, it truly is a thing of beauty. I make no qualms about citing the famous Oreo tweet that they designed, created and published just 10 minutes into the unexpected blackout during the 2013 Super Bowl.


I mean, wow – just look at that for a tweet.

The whole of Twitter was losing its mind over an unprecedented blackout at the Greatest Show on Earth, 108 million Americans were watching the game on TV, but the brilliant marketing team at Oreo kept its cool and stole the show with this bombshell.

Newsjacking – sometimes referred to as reactive marketing – when conducted with this sort of timeliness and grace (with a little bit of cheekiness thrown in to keep the crowd smiling) is one of the most powerful ad hoc campaigns that the content marketer can pull off.

The tweet gathered momentum immediately – within minutes it was retweeted 15,000 times and garnered a whopping 20,000 likes on Facebook. Incredible figures, really, considering that it was whipped together completely out of the blue (or perhaps out of the black) in a matter of minutes. The Ravens may have beaten the 49ers that year, but it was Oreo that won Super Bowl XLVII.

The Great Potential of Newsjacking

Needless to say, the marketing potential of a successful newsjack is great – and so it’s no wonder that marketers from all corners of the globe try to insert their messages into trending stories across social media regularly.

When a news story is trending on social media, by definition there’re literally thousands if not millions of people paying attention. And so, for this very reason, if you’re planning on trying your hand at a bit of newsjacking to increase your exposure, then it’s absolutely crucial that you don’t get it wrong.

We’ve seen how it’s done well, but now I want to show you three examples of newsjacking fails where brands have fallen flat on their face trying too hard to put themselves on the map. Indeed, the following tweets did more harm than good for the reputation of each brand in question, and would have been better if they had simply tweeted nothing at all.

3 Newsjacking Fails We Can All Learn From


Kenneth Cole – “Boots On The Ground”

Almost as famous as the Oreo blackout tweet, but for all the wrong reasons, is Kenneth Cole’s “Boots on the ground” tweet in September 2013.

Kenneth Cole, of course, is the man behind the eponymous fashion label. But, oh my goodness, if you want to know the definition of inappropriate, heartless and just darn right idiotic newsjacking, then take a look at this tweet that Cole put out in an effort to take advantage of the escalating Syrian conflict (yes, a warzone where people were being killed) for the decidedly anti-heroic purposes of peddling his products.


I mean, what an absolute shite!

And it wasn’t the first time he’d done something like this. Here’s his tweet from 2011, circa the beginnings of the Arab Spring in Egypt.


This, for me, and I’m sure for many, is actually beyond a fail – it’s just unforgiveable.

His tweet angered the internet, forcing Cole to issue an apology via his Facebook page.

“I apologize to everyone who was offended by my insensitive tweet about the situation in Egypt. I’ve dedicated my life to raising awareness about serious social issues, and in hindsight my attempt at humor regarding a nation liberating themselves against oppression was poorly timed and absolutely inappropriate. Kenneth Cole, Chairman and Chief Creative Officer

Lesson: Well, to be honest, if I need to spell out what can be learned from Kenneth Cole’s shamelessness, then I simply advise you to never ever attempt newsjacking and it’s probably about time you had a serious word with yourself about your outlook on the world in general.

AT&T – “Never Forget”

It’s of course possible to accurately predict trending news stories, and thusly devise a newsjacking campaign in advance. And that’s exactly what AT&T did prior to the twelfth anniversary of the 9/11 atrocity in New York. Here’s the tweet:


Naturally, on September 11th every year, social media is going to be talking. However, when a brand tries to take advantage of the trend and the attention that this tragedy reliably receives, it doesn’t go down well.

BuzzFeed writer Ryan Broedrick, for example, tweeted “@ATT your cool photoshop makes the memories of my parents crying in front of the television a lot easier to deal with today.”

Yeah – AT&T absolutely deserved that, and eventually took the post down and issued an apology.


Lesson: Again, I feel that I shouldn’t really need to explain, but, what newsjackers have to appreciate is that creating brand or product promotions off the back of tragedies is – to put it lightly – not cool. Don’t do it. Ever. ‘Nuff said.

Epicurious – “Whole-grain Cranberry Scones!”

Do you remember the Boston Marathon bombing? Yes, that’s right – three people were killed and scores more injured.

Yeah – Epicurious had the perfect remedy:


Plugging breakfast treats in reaction to a mass murder…. I really can’t believe that such a thing ever even entered the head of whomever was responsible for the brand’s Twitter feed that day – and other tweeters of course agree.

Once again, the brand was forced to apologise.


Lesson: Promoting your products because people are being killed is just outrageous. Please learn from Epicurious’s mistake.

Final Word

I have to admit that I’ve managed to get myself quite cross whilst writing this post. But, I want to close out by being objective.

I think it should go without saying that newsjacking tragic stories just because they’re receiving lots of attention is extremely insensitive, if not just down right offensive. Capitalism at its ugliest, in my opinion.

However, besides the reckless assaults on humanity that these tweets display, the content marketer working for an SME must take note, for the good of the business if nothing else. All of these tweets here come from large brands whose size ensures that they will inevitably survive such heartless gaffes. It’s embarrassing for them, but millions will still be buying their products next year.

Smaller companies, on the other hand, are less equipped to remain in business if they make similar mistakes. And so, the biggest lesson – from a business perspective – that we must all take away from these newsjacking fails is simple: avoid making such horrendous misjudgements in the first place. Never mind the world, your business will be infinitely better off for it.

Back to you

Know of any other newsjacking fails that we can all learn from? Tell us about  them in the comments below.

John Waldron
John Waldron
Writer with markITwrite who regularly writes on lifestyle and technology. He is also a fiction writer who has penned a number of short stories, play scripts, and stories for children. He is the author of the foraging blog, First Time Foragers: Recipes and Stories for Beginners. He has a First-Class Honours Degree in English with Creative Writing and an MA in Professional Writing from University College Falmouth, Cornwall.