It’s the combo we never saw coming; so absurd we’d never think we’d have to lay eyes on it… yet we did, and so did millions of others. If you immediately knew we were talking about Heinz beans on Weetabix, then you’re right. This tweet sparked a long thread of what’s known as reactive marketing. This lovely phenomenon even subjected us to seeing some crazy takes on the meme, including beans on glasses (thank you, Specsavers).

We’ve put together a bit of a crash course on reactive marketing with some brands who really nailed it, how to prepare to ride the coattails of the next big social media trend, as well as how to stir your own commotion.

What is reactive marketing?

We like to sum up reactive marketing as being instantaneously creative in all the right ways. It’s catching a trend in its early hours and taking advantage of its virality. While it’s notoriously impossible to predict virality, it’s important to keep your finger on the pulse of what’s happening in the world of social media. This marketing tactic is a great way to keep your brand relevant and relatable if you hop on the trend at the right time and don’t overdo it. 

While reactive marketing can be a great way to see more engagement and awareness for your brand, there are some examples of it going terribly wrong. For example, Cinnabon’s tweet about Carrie Fisher lasted a total of 45 minutes before being deleted. There’s an important balance to strike between reacting to news and trends and using a situation solely to promote your product or brand.

Newsjacking – the best time to ride trends is NOW

Newsjacking, a concept originally founded by David Meerman Scott, is the practice of using current events or news stories in a way to promote your own brand or product. You’ll mostly see it happening on Twitter feeds (looking at you, Weetabix). It’s super important to jump on the news story wave as soon as possible, which would be right after it hits the ‘breaking news’ phase. Afterward, public excitement grows, as do the impressions and reach. By making moves as soon as possible, you get maximum exposure. The longer you wait, the more you miss out, and even worse, the story could become old news. 

Creating a Reactive Marketing Plan

For when there’s no time to plan, this is where setting in stone what’s appropriate or not for when the moment strikes will save you. There’s no point in trying to shoehorn your brand into the conversation just to ride the trend. You have to make sure that you have something to contribute to the conversation – whether it’s funny, creative, an opinion or an interesting fact. While you can’t predict when a trend will take off, having a loose procedure in place for when it does will guarantee you’re prepared to hop on the bandwagon. 

Firstly, figure out who will be in charge and be ready to respond. If you’re too slow in getting involved in the conversation, the world will be on to a new trend by the time you’ve even gotten up to speed. Having someone on the team who discovers trends and plans an approach to be involved will be huge in keeping up with progressing social media trends. This can even just be bringing it up in a morning catch-up meeting to bounce ideas off each other. 

Secondly, identify the event. Loosely figure out what’s appropriate or not for your brand to interact with. This way, you’ll know when it’s right for your brand to be involved or when it’s time to take the backseat and appreciate the memes by sharing them with your team in a Slack thread (which, admittedly, we did with the Bernie meme). 

A lot of reactive marketing involves rolling with the punches. Making sure you have a versatile team who’s quick to adapt to situations will be the icing on the reactive marketing cake. Here at Chapter, our team is ready to be nimble at a moment’s notice if the perfect opportunity strikes. That means our designer, copywriter and social media manager are on speed dial and so is our founder to make sure we can all safely sign off.

Creating Reactive-Friendly Content

There’s reacting, but we have to remember it all starts somewhere. Here’s the part where we want to remind you… reactive marketing is made possible by 1 interaction, whether it be a tweet, story or post. Weetabix started the action last week by harnessing two things:

  1. Making a bold or crazy statement that would generate extreme responses (think totally upside down)
  2. Dragged another brand into the spotlight (which in a way nudges them to participate too)

The first part made people react and the second part helped boost reach on the post by tapping the shoulder of another brand to either agree, disagree, or add their opinion to the mix. With reactive marketing, there is always a risk. But with Weetabix, there was a clear line of humour that allowed for the statement to not be taken too seriously. This perfect mix of shock and tagging was the secret sauce to the post’s success. 

Another way to start the wave is a love-it-or-hate-it (lightly) controversial approach. The tweet by Weetabix the day before the infamous beans tweet involved spreading Marmite on your Weetabix. A product that’s already divisive in general (not sure we’ve ever met someone neutral about Marmite), this love-it-or-hate-it approach will get people fired up and ready to get their opinions involved in the conversation. And voila – virality! 

Reactive marketing to inspire your business

Weetabix Response: Highlight Reel

Taco Bell: Thinking big  

When Russia’s modular space station, Mir, was scheduled to deorbit in March 2001, an unexpected brand took advantage of the global event. Taco Bell set up a huge floating target board in the Pacific Ocean where Mir’s debris was expected to fall. According to their promo, everyone in the US would be entitled to a free Taco Bell taco if a piece hit the target. While financially risky, the stunt was covered under an insurance policy to cover nearly 280 million free tacos (around $10 million). No part of the station hit the target, but it was a great way for the brand to get people talking.

Water Aid Campaign – Water on Mars 

Seeing a place to join in when NASA successfully landed Perseverance on Mars last week with its main mission to explore an ancient water source, WaterAid joined in to show how their charity is helping to find water right here on Earth. A brilliant example of using current events to bring awareness to the charity and get people talking. 

Wendy’s: A Man Needs His Nuggs

When Carter Wilkerson tweeted Wendy’s asking how many retweets he’d need to get free chicken nuggets for a year, he didn’t expect it to become (at the time) the most retweeted tweet. It even surpassed Ellen Degeneres’s previously most retweeted Oscar’s selfie. It spread so far that even brands like Microsoft, Amazon and Apple got involved in #NuggsforCarter.

Bernie Sanders in his chair

2020 was the year for strange events, and the US Presidential Inauguration was no exception to that rule. Cue Bernie, with his warm mittens and comfy winter coat sitting nonchalantly, legs crossed, on a folding chair in the midst of the socially-distanced crowd. The world rejoiced as brands like Ikea, WikiHow and Jameson Whisky popped Bernie into some interesting spots. The brands involved in this trend are countless, and we suggest having a search to see just how many are out there – they’re seemingly infinite and all incredibly funny.

We hope this inspires you to get your team on the same page when it comes to your reactive marketing dreams. It’s always good to get an idea of where everyone’s heads are at and always make sure you utilise your whole team to help assess whether your plan to intervene is appropriate or not. We know it can be tough telling your boss you don’t think their idea is a good one, but voicing concerns will help protect everyone, including the brand. 

If you’re looking to make reactive marketing a part of your strategy or need some help coming up with ideas, get in touch with us! We’d love to be a place for you to bounce ideas around or a source for new and creative ways to get reactiveness in your marketing strategy. 

For more exciting tips and tricks when it comes to branding, design and social media marketing, head over to our blog!