Every few days it seems, a new buzzword is born into the world of content marketing. Like most good buzzwords, the term “trendjacking” comes with just enough variety of meaning to spark some old-fashioned controversy.
What is trendjacking?
In essence, trendjacking is simply the act of capitalizing on an existing trend in order to bolster one’s brand in the marketplace. Trendjacking can be fortuitous or horribly ill-advised. The outcome depends on how the message lands contextually in the view of the audience.
Trendjacking can mean free publicity
It can even reinforce or define a brand identity. Take, for example, Las Vegas’ response to the viral explosion of Prince Harry’s unfortunately public Vegas escapade. The Las Vegas Convention and Visitors Authority (LVCVA) posted a decree calling for a partying boycott on all people who exploited Prince Harry. The decree included the hashtag #knowthecode (the code, of course, being What Happens in Vegas Stays in Vegas).
The message, printed to look like a formal decree from the 19th century, playfully recontextualizes the well-known Las Vegas campaign while remaining completely consistent with the Las Vegas brand. What started as an ad in August has become a core message on the LVCVA website, Las Vegas.com.
Playing with culture
These days, people expect more from advertising. With brands so accessible to people through social media, audiences are responding to socially intelligent brands. A key element to trendjacking is playing with culture. By altering the meaning or significance of a trend, a brand stands to underscore its own distinct point of view inside the larger cultural context. This is the essence of brand positioning.
Trendjacking, as a term, has itself become a bit of a trend. But the truth is, the phenomenon has existed throughout the history of mass marketing. After all, the Boston Tea Party was never about the tea; it took a cultural trend (drinking tea), and integrated it into a profound political message: No taxation without representation.
Throughout history, people have reinvented cultural trends. You could argue that Andy Warhol was the king of trendjacking. He played with the repetition of popular cultural images, reinventing them in a way that defined both his unique position in the art world and his legacy via the Andy Warhol brand.
Should your brand be doing it?
Is trendjacking a smart move for you and your business? It depends on what you mean when you use the term.
If you plan on using trending hashtags to spam up the feed, then no, don’t do it. At best you’ll damage your own reputation; at worst, you’ll be blocked. If you aim to use trendjacking as a tool for making current trends more relevant to your B2B audience, to play with a trend to illuminate your position in the common culture, or to help your customers understand current marketplace trends, then trendjacking makes an awful lot of sense.
There is nothing wrong with capturing a trend and reinventing it as your own. Just make sure doing so adds value. The key lies in knowing your brand and (with a little luck) striking with impeccable timing.
Do your research
One more bit of advice before you put on your trendjacking pirate’s hat: do your research. In many cases, trends are a reflection of cultures and communities with rich back stories and beautiful nuances. Skull fashion, for example, is clearly influenced by the rich cultural heritage surrounding Dia de los Muertos.
Before you make any social media updates or send out postcards announcing a trend-based event, make sure you understand the trend’s origins, and public sentiment toward that trend.
Failing to understand a trend’s back story can not only lead to missed opportunities, but can also propagate cultural misunderstandings or make your brand come off as superficial. While trendjacking may not be new, the customer-centric world in which we live today requires you to pay close attention to the origins of trends and cultural references if you plan to make them part of your marketing toolkit.
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Images: ”Illustration depicting a screen shot of an internet search bar containing a trending concept / Shutterstock.com“