Trendjacking: Frivolous or pure genius?

This post is sponsored by Wild Advertising & Marketing.

The internet is a minefield of memes, viral challenges and jokes shared by millions across Facebook, Twitter and YouTube. Successfully leveraging on this for the benefit of your brand is like an #achievementunlocked badge for content creators and social media managers – but trendjacking is a bit like surfing. The results are amazing if you catch the wave, but it’s potentially embarrassing (or damaging!) if you fall.

So, what is trendjacking?

Trendjacking is the pop culture counterpart to an older idea: newsjacking.

With newsjacking, a company’s content responds to a current piece of news to capture views or gain relevance (for example, a property developer releasing articles about the implications of new government cooling measures).

Trendjacking is somewhat similar – a company responds, or interacts, with a pop culture phenomenon occurring on the internet. By trendjacking, a company is able to “hijack” or “jack” the popularity of a particular trend. When done right, it results in a spike in the number of views and impressions, and better brand affinity.

The challenges of trendjacking

The concept behind trendjacking is not new. It’s similar to creating seasonal content (for example, for Valentine’s Day or Christmas) with two key differences - it’s trickier to plan for, and requires a deeper immersion in the online culture.

Seasonal content – such as for Chinese New Year – can easily be prepared in advance; the type of content required is also predictable. On the other hand, trends emerge much more spontaneously, with no fixed pattern or logical reason (rickrolling, anyone?).

As such, our approach to trendjacking at Wild requires our content teams to stay in touch with the ebb and flow of internet culture, and to be creative and nimble enough to jump at the opportunity of a viral trend before it loses relevance.

One example was when we quickly created a content piece for MSIG Insurance in light of last year’s mad rush for concert tickets to catch K-pop band BTS live. Due to an overwhelming demand, they were notoriously difficult to get, so our content focused on how Singaporeans could try catching BTS in other nearby countries on their Asia tour — and get those elusive concert tickets covered with travel insurance:

But trendjacking comes with its risks and if executed badly or in poor taste, it can potentially offend and alienate. When beloved Singaporean polar bear Inuka passed away, local retailer IUIGA was quick to respond – with a Facebook post announcing that its porcelain tea series would be named in his honour. The move attracted widespread criticism for being opportunistic and while it garnered plenty of attention, it was of the negative kind and ultimately hurt the brand.

Is trendjacking worth the effort, despite the challenges?

Trendjacking is an effective way to reach new customer demographics, while still retaining the core values and essence of your brand.

The recent #10YearChallenge saw everyone, from friends to celebrities and political leaders, posting a photo comparison of themselves 10 years before and in the present.

With Cycle & Carriage celebrating its 120th anniversary, we saw a prime opportunity and put a little twist on the challenge, instead showing its 120-year difference, back when the car distributor was formerly a nutmeg and sundry goods trading company. This helped the brand reach a wider demographic, beyond its usual audience of car dealers and buyers, and also established the company as a piece of Singapore’s history.

This way, trendjacking can achieve so much more than a higher impression count. We’ve learnt it can also be used to establish a more personal relationship with fans by eschewing purely transactional content for storytelling that cleverly aligns a topical trend with the brand’s messaging.

It’s also worth considering that trendjacking can sometimes be low-hanging fruit. When the topic is already trending, it’s simply easier to piggyback on its virality and buzz instead of trying to start a new conversation from scratch.

When famed minimalist Marie Kondo and her decluttering methods went viral, we moved fast to help CPF Board trendjack it with a series of Instagram Stories to educate Singaporeans on how to spring-clean their finances. This allowed CPF to get its message across and draw attention with an ongoing trend, rather than having to invest a sizeable budget into creating a whole new concept and advertising it.

Should your brand jack a trend?

There are four key considerations before deciding to jump on a trend:

  1. Can you move fast enough to ride on the trend while it’s still fresh?

Trends come and go quickly. Content that refers to long faded trends (for example, Techno Viking, Nyan Cat, Boxxy) will often look meaningless or dated. Memes – much like in-jokes – have no meaning once the context is forgotten.

Sometimes, jumping on a stale trend will backfire and become an embarrassment for the brand; the cultural equivalent of a 40-year-old dressing like a teenager. If the content team isn’t fast enough to jump on trends, it’s best to avoid a “me too” approach.

  1. Do you understand the full context of the trend/meme?

Some memes or trends carry serious political connotations. For example, Ugandan Knuckles – which involves a cartoon character asking if you know “de wae” in a thick accent – is construed by some viewers to be racist and offensive. Content teams should trendjack only when they understand the full range of implications.

  1. Is the trend/meme a good fit for your brand?

The connection between the trend and the company should not feel like too much of a stretch. If it does not closely align with the brand, the company may be accused of simply creating "clickbait". This is considered an off-putting and cheap tactic to increase views, and can leave consumers with a poor impression of your brand.

The company should also consider how well the trend aligns with its core audience or customer group. Besides the risk of causing offence, some demographics simply lack the right frame of reference. For example, people who don’t watch Gordon Ramsay clips on YouTube won’t understand “Nino” jokes, even if they seem appropriate for a restaurant or food brand.

  1. Does the effort add value to the brand?

There should be an identifiable value-add to the company. This can be eyeballs from a relevant demographic, or outright sales conversions. It can also be part of a content funnel, leading viewers to the company’s site or blog. If there is no measurable benefit or call to action, it may be better to pass on the trend and wait for another one to come along.