According to popular belief, the word ‘Trendjacking’ first surfaced a few years after Twitter’s inception in 2006, driven by the introduction of the hashtag feature. For the first time, hashtags allowed social media users to discover trends that were emerging in real-time.
Joining the general conversation while it was happening was something completely new to the social media paradigm. Twitter became a breeding ground for a whole new generation of social media users, much of whom were part of a counterculture to Facebook’s ageing and increasingly ‘mainstream’ demographic.
For the new generation of Twitter users, gone were the days of superfluous, boring paragraphs in a status; it was now all about the quick and nimble one-liners in a tweet. In just a few years, Twitter earned itself a loyal following amongst its native demographic; and the idea of hashtagging rapidly diffused among millennials who adopted the feature with open arms.
Trending topics were inundated with an eclectic mix of opinions, insights, and often spam-filled updates from the average person – all looking to establish themselves as a player within the ranks of Twitter’s fast-paced, innovative, and highly reactive community.
It was this phenomenon that Gary Vaynerchuk described as ‘riding the wave of a hashtag’ in his 2013 bestseller ‘Jab, Jab, Jab, Right Hook’. The very same year, David Meerman Scott wrote a book entitled ‘Newsjacking’: How to Inject your Ideas into a Breaking News Story and Generate Tons of Media Coverage.’ The popularisation of this literature would subsequently propel the notion of Trendjacking, and shape how it is defined and understood today.
Nowadays, Trendjacking isn’t just an activity of the average person – it’s a highly documented, well-cited guerrilla tactic in 21st-century digital marketing. A quick and relatively simple method of gaining free exposure by ‘jacking’ a trend or ‘riding the wave’ of a hashtag became a commonplace tactic for social media marketers.
So, there you have it, Trendjacking was born. Or at least in the eyes of most modern-day marketers, that is how it originated. But actually, the art of Trendjacking has been practiced for centuries – way before the birth of the World Wide Web. A prime example is religion. Storylines from certain religious scriptures are strikingly similar to others from the same era – this implies that certain religions were effectively remixed to bring about alternate narratives and worldviews.
Part of the reason why most of the marketing community perceive Trendjacking as a fairly new tactic is because of the advent of Web 2.0. This served to increase connectivity and amplify the spread of information via User Generated Content, thus providing the ideal environment for Trendjacking to thrive.
Below are some simple examples of how brands and individuals have used Trendjacking to gain exposure on social media.
Coors Light – #TheDress
It’s hard not to remember the dress that broke the internet in February 2015. People worldwide took to social media to argue over whether it was white and gold or black and blue. According to the retailer, it was black and blue. Coors Light took this opportunity to Trendjack by claiming that the dress looked ‘silver and blue’ to them.
#TheDress looks silver and blue to us.
— Coors Light (@CoorsLight) February 27, 2015
Individual – Drake’s Hotline Bling
The internet went into meltdown when Drake released the video to his single Hotline Bling in late October, 2015. From my memory, it seemed as though the whole of November and December was a wash of remixed drake memes. This is a good example of Trendjacking from everyday social media users.
Norweigan Airlines – Brad is single
As expected, Brad Pitt and Angelina Jolie splitting up in September 2016 sparked a bit of a media frenzy. Norweigan Airlines were first to react to the news, and they did so in an understated, yet highly impactful way. The campaign generated vast amounts of PR and got them noticed by industry experts.
— Norwegian UK&I (@NorwegianUK) September 22, 2016
Despite the widespread adoption of Trendjacking, it appears that there is somewhat of a fragmented consensus on the definition of the word. Let’s look at a few definitions of Trendjacking from the digital marketing community.
‘In essence, Trendjacking is simply the act of capitalizing on an existing trend in order to bolster one’s brand in the marketplace.’ – Megan Totka (2013)
‘Trendjacking occurs when a trending topic on Twitter is hijacked with irrelevant tweets from spam users.’ – Urban Dictionary (2009)
‘Simply put, Trendjacking is when you hop on a major social trend and use the buzz to get those people to engage with your own brand.’ – Sprout Social (2015)
‘Trendjacking is the practice of jumping on the bandwagon of a trend to help promote your own brand or agenda.’ – Digital Lab (2016)
Generally speaking, these definitions provide a fairly accurate description of how most of us understand Trendjacking. Although the aforementioned definitions acknowledge (and agree) that Trendjacking is about capitalizing on a trend in order to provide exposure for your brand, they don’t observe that often, the trend is manipulated or changed to bring light to a new story, message or idea. It is this type of activity that lends itself to the norms of a ‘remix culture’, and we see this type of activity everyday.
The role of memes
The propagation of memes has played a vital role in how the remix culture that we live in has transpired. Memes have shaped the way we express ourselves as individuals, evolved the way we communicate with others and influenced how ideas diffuse in society.
The Oxford Dictionary provides two definitions of the word meme:
1. An element of a culture or system of behaviour passed from one individual to another by imitation or other non-genetic means.
2. An image, video, piece of text, etc., typically humorous in nature, that is copied and spread rapidly by Internet users, often with slight variations.
The former provides a holistic definition and can be applied to the behaviours of a culture in a broad sense. The latter provides a more specific definition that is highly contextual, and far more relatable to how we understand what memes are in today’s language.
Note how the secondary definition also pays tribute to the fact that memes are often spread with ‘slight variations’. It is these variations that lend itself to the norms of a remix culture. Therefore, in most cases, propagating remixed memes is synonymous with Trendjacking.
Most of us will be familiar with the meme ‘Keep Calm & Carry On’. This was a poster produced by the UK government during World War 2 with the intent of raising public morale. Since then, it has been remixed, rehashed, and rejigged multiple times with various suffixes. This is a perfect example of a text-based meme that has been Trendjacked, and therefore popularised by remix culture.
‘Netflix & Chill’ is another prime example of a meme that has been manipulated or changed to bring light to a new story, message or idea. A spin-off clothing brand called ‘Ketflix & Pills’ which was popularised by UK drug culture surfaced in December 2015 – and already they have amassed over 242,000 likes on their Facebook page and over 34k followers on Instagram.
Just like memes, trends can come, go, and resurface in quick succession, or they can sustain longevity for a considerable period of time. The Kylie Jenner Lip Challenge, the ALS Ice Bucket Challenge, and more recently the Mannequin Challenge are all examples of trends/memes that have passed by relatively quickly.
#MondayMotivation, #WednesdayWisdom and #ThrowbackThursday are all examples of trends/memes that have somewhat stood the test of time. These hashtags appear almost every week in the trending stories on Twitter, and have done for a couple of years.
These examples alone pay testament to the widespread proliferation of Trendjacking in the 21st century. It also provides substantial evidence that Trendjacking, in practice, has evolved into something that is far more complex and multifaceted than what it was previously given credit for.
In today’s world, the one-dimensional definitions, as previously discussed, don’t satisfactorily observe how Trendjacking has evolved. This is not to say that these definitions are obsolete; however, it does affirm that the definition requires revisiting.
All things considered, we have put a lot of thought into what an up-to-date, extended definition of Trendjacking should be, based on how it is and will be utilised in the foreseeable future.
We hereby redefine Trendjacking as:
‘Disrupting trends that surface in popular culture by leveraging context to a new story or idea’