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This year has seen many big news stories in Hong Kong, from Edward Snowden’s visit, the ongoing discussions about the Philippines’ reaction to the hostage incident, the free TV license dispute and concerns about the H7N9 bird flu. But the most discussed and shared news story was about a big, yellow plastic toy.
Rubber duck, a 16.5 meter-high art installation by Florentijn Hofman, was on display in the Victoria Harbour to bring joy and happiness to the city. The news coverage and discussions in the blogosphere already started before its arrival on May 2, 2013 and continued well after its departure on June 9, 2013. It stole the limelight from the Mobile M+ exhibition that featured inflated art sculptures. Other events, such as the popular Cheung Chau Bun Festival, acknowledged the yellow toy with a special t-shirt that combined both.
The rubber duck’s popularity was partly linked to its messages of ‘joy and happiness’ and because it evokes childhood memories, but also partly because of its use in many rapid response opportunities. During the bird’s visit, local restaurants added duck-based and -shaped dishes to their menus, bloggers shared recipes and Sina Weibo users discussed restaurants with the best ‘duck view’ and even duck-viewing tours were offered
Newsjacking the duck
Several companies used the hype about the rubber duck to their advantage. They injected the yellow bird into their news stories to grab the interest of journalists, bloggers and the media, for example:
- A 3D printing company partnered with Toys ‘R’ Us to host a ‘Bye-Bye Duck 3D Party’ to print small 3D versions of the rubber duck as a gift
- Yahoo promoted its new weather app with a rubber duck photo contest and a special celebrity weather report featuring the duck
- Disney added a special ‘collect rubber ducks’ feature to it’s ‘Where’s My Water? 2’ game
- The mobile text and voice messaging service Wechat added duck emoticons, while Spotify created a Duck Season playlist
All those companies played the newsjacking game well: They quickly announced the news, kept it simple and straightforward, and ensured that the news was relevant. But the newsjacking might have gone a step too far: Shortly after the rubber duck arrived in Hong Kong, several imitation ducks sprung up in Chinese cities from Donggu to Xi’an, and even a golden chicken in Canton.