Grant Hunter and Jon Burkhart

Issue 28 | September 2013

Newsjacking isn’t just the title of iris Regional Creative Director Grant Hunter and Social Content Consultant Jon Burkhart’s new book.

It’s a website and a blog 

In many ways the article you are reading now is a huge contradiction. It is about a book, published in a magazine. We like it that way. Who would expect real-time digital creativity to be housed in old-fashioned print with its long lead times? It’s the antithesis of our own little contradiction- in-terms Urgent Genius. One more contradiction: this newsjacking movement has been equally inspired by Steve Jobs and Paris Hilton. One moment we feel like ‘think different’ pirates jumping off a sinking ship. The next moment, we take our brazen, misguided confidence into places we shouldn’t be allowed to go.

Why join the navy if you can be a pirate
Steve Jobs

And tomorrow, we’ll be inspired by two totally different people. That’s how fast technology has increased the pace of modern life. But in doing so it’s liberated creativity, allowing individuals to release their genius at an equally frenetic speed.

For the last couple of years our blog,, has celebrated these timely creations from around the globe. It has evolved from a simple collection of the best real-time work into a global network of creative who embrace the Urgent Genius mindset in everything they do. A printed book – tactile and analogue but digitally connected through QR codes – seemed the best way to celebrate the geniuses we’ve discovered along the way.

It will work. I am a marketing genius
Paris Hilton

Our journey started in October 2009 with inspiration from an unlikely source – a far-right politician. Nick Griffin is the leader of the British National Party, a political organisation in the UK. His appearance on the highly regarded BBC show Question Time spread discontent in the UK about the decision to allow him on prime-time television. Griffin’s appearance turned into a public mauling of the man and his policies but large sections of the public were still concerned that the BBC had given Griffin a platform for his extreme views in the first place.

Jon Plackett, a London-based creative, was so incensed by Griffin’s rhetoric that as soon as the show had finished he was compelled to act. He found a piece of video of Griffin addressing a Ku Klux Klan rally in Texas, then designed, wrote and coded a site built around it called slapnickgriffin. com. It simply allowed users to slap Nick Griffin in the face while recording the total number of slaps.

Around 7am the following day, he uploaded the site to
a message board. It soon went viral and even earned him death threats from extremists. Less than a week later, Jon was celebrating a site that enjoyed a few broken servers and 25 million slaps – the first time we witnessed the power of Urgent Genius. During the research for our book, we uncovered other amazing, topical ads. 

As two creatives, we really do appreciate topical ideas. We love the rush of having an idea with an expiration date. It forces people to make a decision. It means we get to go
out and make something that won’t get killed by a regional focus group because there’s simply no time for that process to take place.

That said, time scales have changed. Overnight’s not good enough any more because in the morning it’s too late. The net has turbocharged our media consumption and agencies must adjust accordingly.

Luckily our tools are better too. You can now stay up all night to write, code, record, edit and send your brilliance out to the world in a matter of hours. The BBC did some research that proved we all have nine-second attention spans. Blame social media. We all want it now and we won’t wait. So if it doesn’t bowl us over, we’ve moved on
to the next tweet. Why are we like this? Well, we’ve been overloaded. Hit from all sides. Our brains are exploding and it’s the only way to cope.

As Google CEO Eric Schmidt said: We now generate as much information every two days as was generated from the beginning of time until 2003.

If you want to get noticed among all this clutter, you have to generate ideas that truly stand out. If they are ‘of the moment’, they’re more likely to be successful. They need to capture the zeitgeist. Content was king. Now content within context rules the waves. It’s what we call Urgent Genius.

As we started tracking the Urgent Genius trend it became clear there are principles to an Urgent Genius mindset. It’s a philosophy anyone can adopt but many struggle to

implement. With that in mind, we’ve grouped the work under seven guiding themes, each with a chapter dedicated to showing real-world examples that bring the theory to life.

In our book, each chapter starts with a detailed description of the work followed by interviews with some of the creators as well as illustrations to help show the key points. The case studies then follow in full colour and the QR codes will give access to further digital content. The book is the real document of the journey we’ve been on, a journey that continues to pick up pace. This piece is merely a signpost.

The eight principles of Urgent Genius

1. Catch the wave

In his book Real-time Marketing and PR, David Meerman Scott maintains that ideas are most likely to catch fire within forty-eight hours of the story breaking. This is called the Real-time Power Law and with this in mind you must strike while the iron is hot. You must be prepared to ride out the popularity of a story, resigned to the knowledge that any reward for your efforts may be short-lived.

Steve Jobs RIP
Client Self Promotion
Art Director Jonathan Mak Country Hong Kong
Date October 211

The day Steve Jobs resigned from Apple, nineteen year-old Jonathan Mak put his brilliant logo on Tumblr and it barely caused a ripple. So he reposted it moments after Apple’s former CEO passed away and it went viral within hours. 

In fact, it was the most shared image online for what was Twitter’s biggest ever spike. Mak embraced the newsjacking mindset of just ‘think, make, launch’ and his career took off.

Lesson learned: timing is everything. Get it wrong the first time and just wait for another trigger. It might catapult you from student to superstar overnight.

2. Adopt an editorial mindset

Traditional ad agency methods and structures have remained largely static since the Mad Men era. However, in recent years visionaries at digital agencies have shaken things up with a hybrid approach to creativity. To react to breaking news in a timely manner, agencies must both create and self-edit, producing content at a moment’s notice before an avalanche of rival media drowns out their voice.

Of course, this means traditional, focused roles are no longer relevant. The most prized skill is an alert and open mind. Art directors and copywriters become less important when everyone is their own producer and creative-in-chief inside agencies, which are evolving to become more like newsrooms.

SuperSwypers – the fastest journalists on earth Client Samsung
Agency Muse Amsterdam
Country Netherlands

Date August 2010

Until scientists get it together and invent teleportation, there will always be things we miss. Fortunately, Samsung took up the mantle with the SuperSwypers, a team of speed

bloggers who attend all the events and festivals you can’t. Using the Swype app (run your fingers across the screen
for 50% faster typing) these bloggers gave the play-by-play via words, photos and videos, all published live via Twitter, Facebook and YouTube, meaning you’re there in spirit rather than in person.

The result: SuperSwypers were rushed to over 160 events, reaching 600,000 people.

3. Plan your spontaneity

In this section we feature ideas and products that turn familiar yearly events into creative gold. The most clichéd days are ripe for reinvention, whether it’s enhancing the experience of the World Cup with personalisation and technical innovation or providing an alternative to the cheesy Royal Wedding memorabilia. In each example, the brand has identified an event ideally suited to them and approached the task with varying degrees of irreverence.

Shout your love
Client AT&T
Agency BBDO New York
Country USA
Date February 14th 2011 (Featured in Directory 21)

If a lumberjack shouted a romantic ode to you from the craggiest of peaks, would you listen? AT&T gambled on this unusual concept as people texted thousands of messages just in time for Valentine’s Day. The best ones were picked and sent to the AT&T-powered phones of several ‘mountain men’. In just one day, these husky characters delivered 700 love shouts, which were filmed and posted onto recipients’ Facebook walls in real time. 

Needless to say, this campaign echoed well beyond Valentine’s Day. Just like true love should, right? And as a concept, it had echoes of Urgent Genius all over it – especially its instant approval-and-response mechanism.

4. Keep it fresh

In this section are some of the most innovative case studies that characterise Urgent Genius. So, what is the Urgent Genius mindset? It’s an approach to solving a problem creatively. The creators of this sort of work are maverick in their single-minded approach to disrupting the status quo. The best clients are more digitally savvy and are constantly asking for the next big thing. But one basic question is answered in every brief: What’s never been done before

– and, where appropriate, what new tool can I use in a surprising way.

Tim Hortons Coffee News Client Gulf News Agency Y&R Dubai Country UAE

Date June 2012

Physical morning ritual: coffee. Digital morning ritual: getting your news via Twitter. Dubai’s largest English- language newspaper Gulf News and Y&R asked popular coffee chain Tim Hortons to print the Gulf News’ Twitter feed in real time on their cup sleeves.

Result: nearly 3,000 new followers in the first fortnight. Traffic rose by 41% and subscriptions more than doubled. We feel that taking digital things into the real world is the future of Urgent Genius so thank you Mr. Horton for your clever cups.

Slurpee BYO Cup Day

5. Invent your own event

Topical relevance is hard to come by, so why not fix the chances in your favour? The case studies in this section show brands using their influence to create fun, novelty days of the year with the chance to revive them annually.

Wonderbra, for instance, created International Cleavage Day, which started before social media but came into its own when sharing photos online took off. Started in South Africa in 2002, this ‘invented holiday’ recurs every April inviting young women to share photos online and celebrate girl power while Wonderbra donate revenue from their sales to the Sunflower Fund cancer charity.

Create a movement for all the right reasons. As Scott Goodison wrote in How to Build a Brand and Change The World:

“The kind of movements that gather around positive, creative, dynamic ideas can help build a better, fairer, more sustainable and more interesting world. They can help individuals rally support for worthy causes; help an innovator build momentum.

Slurpee BYO Cup Day
Client 7-Eleven Stores, Australia
Agency Leo Burnett Melbourne
Country Australia
Date September 2011 (featured in Directory Issue 24)

Ever wanted to slurp from a mannequin’s cavity? Then head over to 7-Eleven on ‘Bring Your Own Cup Day’ and you can enjoy a Slurpee from any vessel you want. 

In response to recent competition, ‘BYO Cup Day’ was created to allow fans to go but with their favourite iced drink.

Using their substantial online following, they invited people to fill literally anything they wanted for the price of a medium Slurpee.

The results were amazing – in just one day sales rose 270%, almost every Slurpee machine ran dry and the fans created more content than in the brand’s entire history, uploading over 30 new photos and videos every minute. Put that in your pipe and slurp it.

6. Be genuine and relevant

Behind every screen there is a human writing the copy. Sometimes the best marketing of all is to let that humanity show or risk becoming a tool of our tools, as Thoreau says.

Case studies in this section all demonstrate how important it is for brands to behave like human beings. But as well as being human, you need to use your brain and think about how your messages are relevant and appropriate for your audience at a specific moment in time.

Poorly judged opportunism and commercial exploitation can destroy a brand in a day while social media can play host to a lasting backlash.

If a brand wants to be more than two-dimensional and create an online dialogue with customers, it must be honest.

Watermark Rum
Client Diageo’s Bundaberg Rum Agency Leo Burnett Melbourne Country Australia
Date April 2011

When a region the size of France gets flooded, where
do you find the courage to rebuild? In Queensland you
start at the brewery. Just two days after the floods had devastated their surroundings, the folks at Bundaberg Brewery got their Urgent Genius waterproof skates on, creating Watermark Rum to raise money for the recovery effort. Quickly becoming a national symbol of resilience, the limited-edition rum sold out in a week. But the quick- thinking didn’t stop there. The finale was The Watermark Music Festival, held simultaneously in sixteen of the worst- hit towns, proving that in Australia a natural disaster isn’t reason to drown in self pity. It’s a licence to act fast to help people and then kick back in grand style when the job’s done.

7. Create a platform

Platforms have a distinct advantage over campaigns. They last longer, renewing their own online buzz with every successful new addition to the site. They build communities around a cause. Because they feature constantly updated creative content, they have the chance to be topical again and again. People need these reminders. They miss the first five bits of genius you create because they’re busy and their heads were in a different space. 

The holy grail for your platform is that, ideally, it is:

1.Hugely entertaining and/or so surprising that I must share 2.Easy to share
3.Easy to interact with and get a personalised response

Old Spice Response
Client Procter and Gamble Old Spice Agency Wieden + Kennedy Portland Country USA
Date 2011

‘The man your man could smell like’ truly caught the imagination of the world. With 186 personalised videos created in just two and a half days and sent to influential Tweeters, it was a casebook example of utilising an Urgent Genius mindset. It was the first time an advertising campaign had harnessed the power of personalised film responses. The quality of the writing and the targeting of the influencers made it incredibly effective.

8. Experiment

Experiment often. Fail fast. Learn quicker.

We lived up to our own principles when on February 11th 2011 we staged our own hackathon, challenging teams around the world to see what they could do in the first-ever Urgent Genius weekender.

Teams from the UK, Australia, Singapore, South Africa and the USA took part with judges including Luke Sullivan, author of Hey Whipple Squeeze This and Sam Ball and Dave Bedwood of Lean Mean Fighting Machine.

Ideas were created from trending topics such as Radiohead’s Thom Yorke’s dancing weirdly in the Lotus Flower video and Silvio Berlusconi’s Bunga Bunga trial, currently making the headlines.

What was the point?

Well, as Dan Bull told us, “Thanks for the inspiration and the incentive to do this as otherwise I would have spent my weekend eating Doritos and watching Star Trek.”

The idea was to see what happened.

And what happened was it led us to question the structure and processes of both clients and creative agencies. Why
is it so many agencies are still structured like Sterling Cooper Draper Pryce? The agency of today, to be fit for the future, has to embrace proactivity. The old internal approval processes have to be parked. They’re too slow. There should be a new ‘Go until I say stop’ client approval process if you want to harness the power of real-time marketing.

Newsjacking – the Urgent Genius of real-time advertising is published by Thames & Hudson and is available
from Amazon or at Newsjacking/9780500516720 


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