Big things are happening this summer. The US women’s soccer team just won the World Cup. Shark Week locked its jaws on huge numbers of TV viewers…

Instead of competing for consumers’ attention, some brands simply ride the tide—borrowing big-event hashtags and theme-related subject lines, in a practice known as newsjacking. Have you tested the waters?

Newsjacked subject lines can be great for increasing open rates, but they might not always lead to improved conversions…or long-term brand affinity wins. In fact, without a solid strategy in place, some overzealous marketers wind up with more unsubscribes and longer suppression lists.

So if you’re thinking about rolling out a timely campaign or an eye-catching subject line, here are three rules on how to newsjack without generating mass opt outs:

1. Newsjack stories that are relevant to your audience.

newsjacking_example_sharkweek.jpgWho was watching #SharkWeek during the second week of July? According to the Discovery Channel’s overview, the brand targets adults between the ages of 25 to 54, which aligns well with Malibu Rum’s target buyer. And Shark Week’s beachy, tropical scenes (think intrepid film crews exploring the waters around Mexico, South Africa, Australia, etc.) also jibe with Malibu’s messaging. So this example made for a fin-teresting pair!

2. Create a bridge between the event/story and your brand.

Just like you shouldn’t tack an unrelated hashtag (#NationalBurgerDay or #GreekDebtCrisis) onto a tweet about your patio furniture sale, you shouldn’t compose a newsjacked subject line that has nothing to do with the content of your email. Instead, find ways to insert your message into the trending conversation. Look for angles and segues that highlight your brand values.

For example, major sports events often command public attention and inspire real-time marketing campaigns. But just because your audience is watching doesn’t mean they’re interested in yet another game day email with sports-related promo codes. Several years ago, Rue La La stood out during Super Bowl weekend, by sending an email with a subject line about Beyonce (the game’s halftime performer), who effectively bridged the gap between football and fashion-conscious customers.

3. Only newsjack stories that are light-hearted and non-controversial.

You’ve probably heard about the bad press and brand damage that can come with poor-taste newsjacking. Some companies have leveraged natural disasters like Hurricane Sandy to entice subscribers into online shopping deals. Meanwhile, serious tragedies were taking place.

Whatever trending topic you choose, make sure you run the concept by two or three colleagues before hitting send. In 2010, GameStop crafted a teasing subject line about Tiger Woods’ return to golf (after his public sex scandal promoted him to take a hiatus). In this case the subject line was considered a success, but for some audiences it may have pushed the envelope—and lengthened suppression lists.

One last piece of advice: when it comes to sporting events like the World Cup, the Super Bowl, or the World Series, there are often strict rules that prevent non-sponsors from using official logos or even game titles in their marketing. Instead, you can allude to “big game” buzz by using venue city names or star athletes in your subject lines. Then ensure subject lines, email copy, and visuals are consistent with the language and visuals on your landing page(s).

And as always, be prepared to manage your opt outs and share suppression lists among all email partners. If you’re not totally clear on email compliance, we’re glad to help!