Funny Or Why? 5 Ways Your Brand Can Culture-Jack The Right Way

Using social media to capitalize on current events is risky business. But if done correctly, the payoff can be huge and provide a brilliant bump for your brand.

Earlier this year, we saw a new trend in advertising arrive: "culture-jacking."

Oreo put this term on the table during the third quarter of Super Bowl XLVII when the lights went out in the Superdome. Thanks to the speedy connection and the power of social media, a simple ad was retweeted over 14,500 times that evening. After Oreo poked fun at the power outage and turned a national issue into a comedic ad, brands jumped on board.

The first thing you should know is that culture-jacking is just what it sounds like. It is when a company comes up with some sort of advertisement or campaign that plays off a current, cultural event. This advertisement can show the personality of your brand with a funny saying or by making light of a newsworthy topic. Since we are now living in the era of the 24-hour news cycle, your brand has to know the right ones to pick.

For example, Oreo tweeted "Power out? No problem" and included an ad saying "You can still dunk in the dark." This tweet was released minutes after the lights went out during the 2013 Super Bowl. Oreo was very lucky to have a team actively listening and watching a popular event. Sarah Hofstetter, president on the advertising agency for Oreo, had a full team of social media and brand experts that quickly put together the simple ad that would make news for days to come.

Mini Cooper also jumped at the chance to see if they could master the culture-jacking concept. The brand distributed an ad saying, "Beef. With a lot of horses hidden in it." The company did this while Europe was getting much attention for a horse meat scandal in which beef was being sold containing at least 1% of horse meat. This brave ad could be playing with the line between funny and controversial, but since no one was reportedly hurt from consuming the meat, this ad passed with thumbs-up approval.

With the right creative team in place, it can be very simple to create a culture-jacking ad. Implementing this concept within your own company could be beneficial if you take the correct steps. Here are 5 things you need to know to run a successful, culture-jacking campaign:

Timing is key

This may be the most important factor. Oreo and Mini Cooper were successful because they were quick to react and use current news for their benefit. If you end up running an ad a few weeks later, the news may not be relevant and the ad could have been done already. News moves fast so you have to keep up.

Find a usable idea

Do not take a week to come up with the perfect tagline or try to think of ideas that sound "funny." The important thing is that the idea is fast and relevant. A good creative team should be able to jot down the first thoughts that come into their head, even if they aren't the greatest, and brainstorm amongst each other. With your creative team thinking quickly on their toes, some sort of lighthearted campaign is surely to develop. Again, they will not have a lot of time, so act quickly.

Make it pretty

No matter how great the content is, visuals are always remembered. You could probably show someone a picture of the Oreo in the dark, take out the tagline and they could fill in the (creamy) rest. A bonus, pictures or short videos can be easily shared so that will result in more audience engagement and reach. Visuals will capture the eye and that will be the first thing the public remembers.

Don’t go too far

Oreo was making light of a situation and probably helped the people at the Superdome by distracting viewers with some good humor. We advise not to culture-jack a natural disaster or some national tragedy. The Mini Cooper "Beef" ad was not tragic to the public, although some horses may disagree. Make sure your campaign is not insulting to anyone or any company and that the ad stays focused on your brand’s positioning.

Align with brand strategy

Remember your voice and how you engage with your audience. It is important to align your culture-jacking tactics with your strategy. What message are you trying to send out and whom are you trying to reach? This message will reflect on your brand, so make sure that negative messages are not included in your ad or campaign. The moment you send out a culture-jacking advertisement that makes the public mad, it will be hard to reclaim respect for your brand.

Call to action

Remember, your advertisement needs to speak to your audience. Oreo spoke by telling people "you can still eat Oreos, even when the lights are out." Make sure whatever your brand distributes, it tells the viewer information about your brand. If the campaign is successful, the audience will let you know by the way they respond and share it. This should be the goal of your whole campaign.

Could culture-jacking be right for your brand? For Celeb Boutique, it was not. During the news of the Aurora shooting, this fashion retail store decided to use the trending #Aurora hashtag to their advantage. "#Aurora is trending, clearly about our Kim K inspired #Aurora dress," was the tweet sent out by Celeb Boutique as national news spread that there had been tragedy in a movie theater. Stay as far away as possible from news that will bring grief to America or any other country in the world.

It is vital you have a great team of creative, brand-focused experts to watch and listen to news around the world. Remember to keep the advertisement or campaign very relevant and harmless. The ad does not have to cost a million dollars to produce; it should just portray the fun side of your company and the sense of humor within the brand. Consider getting a team together and practicing culture-jacking techniques. Give them a fairly current event that is light and see what they come up with. If the campaign is good enough to use, then use it. Track how it spreads and consider including culture-jacking in your brand strategy.

Michele Cuthbert is the Creative Director at Baker Creative, a full-service brand strategy firm who is green and minority certified. Prior, Michele worked as an art director for several advertising agencies and large corporations where she developed marketing and strategy for national and international companies. Follow her on Twitter at @bakercreative.

[Image: Flickr user Raja Singh]

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