written by: Chan Chau Tung, Chelsea

Ever since the success of Snickers’ marketing campaign in 2015, which took advantage of celebrities’ and politicians’ glitches, heated debates were stirred up in the industry on whether it is pertinent to create advertising borrowing current social affairs and journalistic discussions. There is yet to be any conclusion and probably would never be. Let’s take a closer look into the matter together.

Snickers’ campaign is appealing for a few reasons. Its uproarious nature differentiate the brand from competition. The humor appeal is doing a great job in attracting attention. Mocking politicians publicly leaves an impression of a bold and dare-to-speak attitude. The most essential element, which I deem as a decisive component accounting to its success, is adopting collective memories in Hong Kong. The classic glitches evoke resonance amongst many and draw a knowing smile on their faces.

When brand marketers race to jump on the bandwagon whenever there is a chance to speak up amidst hot topics carried in the news, it is desirable to act cautiously in order not to run into a public relation disaster. Incorporating news elements into marketing communication campaigns could be risky. Keeping the brand at the top-of-mind position of target customers is one thing, relevance is another thing. In the Hong Kong city where public opinion could be polarized and contentious, offending someone could be terribly easy. Even timely apologies for exasperating others or halting a campaign could lead to ‘self-censorship’ accusation.

Creating successful promotion campaigns by tapping into social events with marketing is a tough task. For example, both Tic Tac and M&M designed derivative work from the controversial posters of China and Hong Kong soccer teams’ World Cup qualifying matches. Consequently, the promotional materials from two disparate companies are very similar.

Utilizing news and combining it with advertising is an impressive yet arduous strategy. Here are some of the successful cases with certain common ground.

First, make good use of grave news that are relatively less controversial and/or carries universal value. It is much more efficient to arouse attention, create resonance and keep away from public relation disaster. For example, Parker pen did a great job in choosing an appropriate piece of news to work with [1] – the signing of Anti-Ballistic Missile Treaty. It is certainly big news at the time and is totally in harmony with the anti-war social atmosphere. The award-winning Snickers’ campaign can be a classic example as well. Although its choice of news is from relatively minor matters, the quotes all have a place in HK citizens’ hearts. In addition, mentioning some negligible flaws would not hurt anyone.

Second, make sure there is a logical relation to the brand/product being promoted. Many brands try to use the humor appeal and make jokes on social media with social circumstances. The roller coaster promotion by Kam Fan Awardee Ocean Park is another good example [2]. The excitement of riding roller coaster is timely associated with the turbulent stock market, a well-articulated metaphor.


This strategy of tapping on news and current affairs for promotion is a double-edge sword. Opportunities are immense if there is thorough yet precise comprehension on sentiments of the social environment.

[1] https://thehousenewsbloggers.net/2015/08/11/%E5%BB%A3%E5%91%8A%E4%BA%BA%E4%B8%8D%E8%A6%81%E5%86%8D%E4%BA%82%E6%8A%BD%E6%B0%B4%E4%BA%86%EF%BC%81/
[2] hhttp://kamfan.admango.com/kamfanarchive/