Brand Purpose Advertising

Is trendjacking a way for brands to take a stand without rocking the boat?


By Shawn Lim, Reporter, Asia Pacific

March 6, 2019 | 9 min read

Following Nike’s ad with Colin Kaepernick and Gillette’s ad on toxic masculinity, much ink has been spilt once again on whether brands should make the bold move to comment on social trends, and if it will hurt their bottom line if they do.

While Nike and Gillette do not shy away from taking a stand, there are some brands who prefer to err on the side of caution by taking part in less serious social trends, also known as trendjacking.

Take Singapore’s oldest bank OCBC, for example. The bank ran two trendjacking campaigns, the first of which saw the Sir Stamford Raffles statue ‘disappearing’ into its building, held in conjunction with the Singapore Bicentennial Office. The second saw it upload a series of four social posts as part of the viral ’#10yearchallenge’ on social media.


Yvonne Low, the chief marketing officer for consumer financial services in Singapore at OCBC Bank claims the bank saw organic reach increase by more than 300%, as well as the number of engagements (by over 800%) when compared to an average post. She says the bank also saw a slew of positive comments which reinforced its brand values.

“They received between 200-600% more organic engagement than our regular posts on Instagram, and up to 30 times the usual engagement on Facebook. OCBC has a rich history, and it’s become clear over the years that our fans and customers enjoy reminiscing about the good old days before social media,” she explains to The Drum.

According to Low, OCBC has found that trendjacking drives positive brand reinforcement for its brand as it shows that the bank shares common interests with its audience, helping it to connect better with customers. OCBC has also seen that there is an increase in certain brand attributes such as innovation and “brand for me”.

However, she cautions that this requires brands to not overreach themselves and focus only on trends that fit within their brand values.

“Trendjacking for the sake of trendjacking or “forcedjacking” is likely to backfire. It’s important that we identify the right trends to pick up on because blindly creating content in the hope of riding each trending wave will end up feeling forced and fake,” says Low.

Brands like OCBC are taking part in trendjacking because starting a conversation on a trending social issue can help brands build buzz and break through the very saturated advertising landscape, observes Mimrah Mahmood, regional director of media solutions at Meltwater.

He points to Nike’s Colin Kaepernick campaign as an example of how a well-executed, insightful campaign can benefit both the brand and the bottom line. Even though the campaign received backlash and some very negative social media sentiment, online sales actually surged in the days following the release of the ad.

“The campaign is estimated to have added nearly $6 billion to the brand’s market value. As for the backlash, the majority of responses aligned with pre-existing attitude towards the campaign’s messaging, and ultimately did not diminish the brand’s sales,” he explains. “It is important to consider the broader marketing context as data may not always be indicative of the campaign’s ‘performance’.”

Do consumers care?

Consumers care when brands trendjack or take a stand on social issues, though it highly depends on the relevance in which the brand places their mark, says Mahek Shah, the client director at Lion & Lion, a digital agency in Malaysia.

She highlights that it boils down to the choice of the trend, the relevance to their target audience, the creativity used to represent, and most importantly the brand’s ability to create and build engagement.

The agency used the #10yearchallenge for premium infant milk brand Nutrilon Royal to showcase that the bond between mother and child remains the same throughout the years. This resulted in more than just higher engagement as followers of the Instagram account also shared their own mother-child photos.

“This belief that brands are part of the collective consciousness is evident in how much people talk about it when brands do take a stand,” adds Mahmood.

“Meltwater’s analysis of the social conversations around the Gillette ad revealed that 59.5% of the chatter in SEA was positive in nature, as compared to 16.3% negative mentions. Ultimately, consumers want to see a brand stand for something and try to help make society better.”

Is there a right way to trendjack?

Before brands embark on trendjacking or take a stand on social issues however, Mahmood says they really take the time to truly understand a social issue from multiple perspectives. This is because one of the biggest pitfalls is not understanding the nuances or depth of how strongly the audience may feel, and without this understanding, brands run the risk of sounding tone deaf, or worse, insulting.

For example, the 2017 Pepsi ad featuring Kendall Jenner, which was eventually pulled, was released during the height of the #blacklivesmatter movement and the visuals were reminiscent of civil rights demonstrations happening at the time. The ad made the mistake of having Kendall Jenner “fixing” the conflict between protestors and a line of police by simply offering a can of Pepsi to a police officer, which drew harsh criticisms from the very audience they were trying to connect with.

“This could have been avoided by taking the time to delve deeper than a surface scan of what is trending and fully examining into the motivations and nuances of trends,” he explains. “This involves looking beyond the basic metrics of the volume of conversations and diving into an analytical and quantitative study of conversations online and in the media to inform the message of a brand’s ad campaign.”

As consumers are becoming more aware and sensitized when it comes to brands and social issues, Shah says trendjacking reflects directly on the brand's position, consumers’ perceptions, and has the potential to dilute brand image. "Brands must carefully decide and act to ensure that the brand image is conveyed positively," she adds.

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