How Newsjacking brands covered the Oscars #envelopegate fiasco

Every so often an event occurs which seems to capture the ‘zeitgeist’. The heady combination of a pseudo-amusing occurrence, a particularly slow news day, and some sort of celebrity or showbiz involvement always seems to create the sort of social currency which blows up into an ‘OMG have you seen this?’ sharing spree.

On Sunday night (or Monday morning in the UK) the 89th Academy awards gave the world another of these shock moments. A man gave another man the wrong envelope. A simple mistake. It’s the sort of everyday simple mistake that could happen to anybody. Unfortunately, on this occasion, it happened to Brian Cullinan of PWC, the auditors in charge of making sure that this didn’t happen. 

As one would expect in the circumstances, social media ‘blew up’ on the topic. The usual social news cycle quickly whirred into action, and journalists took the opportunity to compile other people’s content, rather than having to write their own: http://www.telegraph.co.uk/films/0/la-la-land-announced-oscars-2017-best-picture-winner-instead/

And inevitably, quick thinking brands followed, a few hours later.

‘Newsjacking’ is a relatively new phenomenon. Widespread use of social media and the rise of self-service advertising platforms allowing clients or agencies to set campaigns live instantly without the need to book inventory or slots has resulted in a niche advertising tactic. Several high profile brands have grasped the mettle and become synonymous with this sort of activity. Specsavers in the UK is probably the most high profile, whilst it’s widely acknowledged that Oreo in the US gave birth to the medium with their now infamous ‘you can still dunk in the dark’ ad, launched during an impromptu powercut during Super Bowl XLVII in 2013.

Each of these brands has a proactive social media strategy with a structure and process in place to allow them to be reactive, and to ensure that they apply the same rigour to the creative process, even though the approval timeframe is a matter of minutes or hours, rather than weeks or months. The story behind how the Oreo ad came to be is capture here:


The key takeaways are:

Oreo had a team in place (on a Sunday) specifically to do something. They knew the Superbowl is one of the biggest events on the US TV calendar, so they ensured that they were equipped to capitalise. They had representatives from all of their roster agencies – 360i, Wieden + Kennedy, Mediavest and Weber Shandwick, in one room.

They already had a reactive news strategy in place – the ‘Daily Twist’ – a program which began in June and ran for 100 days where they posted responses to what was happening in the news, such as the Mars Rover landing and the anniversary of the ATM.

They were ready.

Specsavers are the best UK proponents of this art. They have the benefit of a clear hook, which hasn’t seemed to get tired – visual mistakes, people not seeing (obvious) things, making mistakes etc. When the news agenda becomes filled with a ‘person doesn’t see something’ story, it’s relatively easy for Specsavers to piggyback on this. But they don’t just have a fortunate place in the sector – they also embrace this and have a ‘prepared readiness’ agreement between their own in-house Creative agency, and MGOMD, their media agency.

Their reaction to the Oscar’s mistake was cleverly done.  ‘Not getting the Best Picture’ is a nice play on words between a blurry TV screen and the ‘Best Picture’ category. If we’re being hypercritical, the fundamental mechanic suggesting that this was a case of misread words, rather than the wrong envelope could be misconstrued – unless their point is that Warren Beatty should have read the writing on the outside of the envelope and not made the announcement (or passed the buck to Faye Dunaway). Like I said – we’re being hypercritical.

Ryanair’s execution was nice. Shifting the focus away from the specifics, but talking in more general terms about how people sometimes make mistakes, and promoting a feature of their service – arguably made more powerful because the majority would probably assume that they didn’t have this policy given some of their questionable PR in recent years. 

Snickers: Spinning “You go La-La when you’re hungry” out of what is already a weak strapline is overreaching in our view. Are they suggesting that someone (we assume Warren Beatty) was hungry, and therefore read the wrong words?   And the fact that this wasn’t even their idea, but they rushed it out anyway for the sake of 338 retweets?


Paddy Power doubled down in their spot. To be honest, it probably didn’t need the reference to President Trump, but that’s an easy point scoring exercise in the current climate. 

As if to prove our point, Oreo declined from releasing an ad to capitalise on #Oscarenvelopegate. I guess they couldn’t shoehorn their offering into a message, despite easy access to the media. A wise move, we say.





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