By Alexandra Dickinson, Director and Chief of Staff at Beekeeper Group, and co-Dean of the DC Chapter of the Awesome Foundation

Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect those of Washington Women in Public Relations


For die-hard college basketball fans like me, March means one thing: madness. As Selection Sunday nears, my heartbeat quickens with anticipation while my thumb becomes obsessively drawn to refreshing the ESPN app on my phone. Will the Wolverines make it in? Will my dreams for an Ohio State snub come true? Only time will tell. While my feverish hoop dreams grow, another kind of madness is brewing among marketing teams across the country, I’m talking, of course, about trendjacking.

Seen most recently with the #TheDress, trendjacking is when a brand seizes on a current meme or trending topic and tries to participate in the conversation. Famously done by Oreo during the blackout in the 2013 Super Bowl, it’s easy to see why a company or organization would want in on a popular moment.

Madness_Image2_1However, there are many drawbacks to this type of participation, and there are plenty examples of trendjacking backfiring. Beyond the big mishaps, there are times where these trends just don’t make any sense (does it really work to have a golden retriever sell me beans as part of a meme about a color-changing dress? I guess if you saw it as gold, but still!) As the Madness seeps into the news cycle, it’s possible that your clients will want to do something basketball related. But just like with any good play, you need to look first, and pass second.

As PR professionals, it’s our responsibility to act with our clients best interests in mind. That’s why this March, I’m asking my fellow digital mavens to join me in ending the madness. Before recommending that a client make a full court press on a trend, consider these ideas first:

  • “The ball don’t lie.” – Former Tar Heel (and my favorite NBA Player of all time) Rasheed Wallace is known for exclaiming the ball’s tendency towards truthiness. From the marketing perspective, consider this exhortation as a reminder of the value of authenticity. If a trend has nothing to do with your brand, you may want to steer clear to avoid derision.
  • The key is not the ‘will to win’…everybody has that. It is the will to prepare to win that is important.”Hoosier legend Coach Knight’s words remind us that a great win requires work up front. While there is no crystal ball for digital marketing, you cannot expect to succeed if you haven’t prepared. Behind a big win (like the Oreo tweet) is a flexible, and responsive team that is ready to play defense at a moment’s notice.
  • “The only important statistic is the final score.”– MVP Bill Russell knew a thing or two about winning on the court. Off the court, this quote is a great reminder that big wins don’t happen all at once. When you work with the end in mind, you’ll see that jumping onto the latest trend may not be beneficial.

While everyone loves a slam dunk, you’re more likely to win with a long string of 3-pointers and good work in the paint. Or, in marketing terms: stick with a marketing strategy that makes sense for your brand, when the right moment comes up you’ll get that slam dunk no matter what.