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Newsjacking, fifties style

In the world of advertising it seems there’s very little new under the sun...

A couple of years ago I read a very interesting book, The New Rules of Marketing and PR by David Meerman Scott. It’s about how the marketing landscape has been transformed with the advent of the digital age. I was pleased to learn that the end of what was aptly named ‘interruption’ advertising was nigh: no longer would watching television, listening to the radio or reading a newspaper be rudely interrupted by advert upon advert clamouring for our attention. The book argued—quite reasonably—that the choices and opportunities now open to us through the world wide web meant that interruption marketing was a thing of the past. If only that were true. Try reading an online newspaper these days without being bombarded with all manner of pop-ups, banner ads and annoying videos you can’t turn off! And as for the dear old television and radio commercials and conventional print advertising- it looks a lot like business as usual to me.


Another ‘innovation’ associated with digital marketing is newsjacking- pinning your advertising to the back of a breaking news story and watching it soar off into the stratosphere. Fair enough to a point, but although the social media that allows newsjacked ads to go viral is a new phenomenon, newsjacking itself isn’t. Indeed one of my favourite examples of the technique happened a good sixty years ago.


New York, 1955. The city is awash with rumours that Walter O’ Malley, the owner of the Brooklyn Dodgers baseball team is thinking about moving his franchise to Los Angeles. It just so happens that around this time rookie ad creative George Lois has been given the task of producing a campaign for American Airlines. Sensing an opportunity, Lois links the two and comes up with this:

Apparently O’ Malley and co. were none too chuffed by the cheeky ad and tried to get it pulled. But since they refused to come out and confirm publicly that the franchise would not be relocating to LA, nothing came of it. And not only was the ad highly successful, it turned out to be prophetic as well: the Dodgers, Brooklyn’s favourite bums since 1883, made their final New York appearance in 1957 before flying off into the sunset. As for George Lois, this was the start of a career that was to see him become one of the most famous ‘Mad Men’ of his era.

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