Your Brand Can Benefit from Trendjacking a Cultural Phenomenon—Just Look at the Taylor Swift and Travis Kelce Relationship Buzz

UPDATED: May 7, 2024
PUBLISHED: November 3, 2023
Taylor Swift & Travis Kelce on cover of US Magazine which is trendjacking their relationship buzz

Their interlaced fingers. Those longing glances. The constant online chatter of millions debating game-day fashion and true timelines and potential date-night hotspots. New love has often fueled creative endeavors, but this time its passion and promise have captivated a nation short on hope and in dire need of distraction.

Welcome to “The Taylor and Travis Show”—also known as the power coupling of popstar supernova Taylor Swift and Super Bowl-winning tight end Travis Kelce—and the groundswell of support any given Sunday, the occasional Thursday and Monday nights and via the 24/7 TikToks.

Following the anguish of the 2022 football season’s ancillary headline involving a bereft Tom Brady grappling with the breakup of his family, Swift and Kelce’s love story has been welcome, frothy fun and a further boon to Kelce’s on-field performance.

With everyone clinging to this phenomenon (even my 8-year-old nephew is in the know), brands like the NFL are wasting no time jumping into this conversation—also known as “trendjacking”—to increase their own relevance. 

Here’s how to monitor for and help your brand bank on future buzzworthy events.

Travis Kelce and Taylor Swift: It’s a love story… but not just a love story

Monica Dimperio, brand builder and founder of Hashtag Lifestyle, believes the magnetic pull of the couple is simply irresistible for pop culture aficionados, with the world eagerly awaiting every chapter of this modern-day fairy tale.

“Will Taylor make it to the next game? Is Travis ‘the one’? What celeb friends will be in the box with her?” Dimperio poses, suggesting the same probing questions fans are likely asking.

Katy Hornaday, chief creative officer of Barkley, likens it to watching a live rom-com. “Also, Taylor has been on the stadium tour to end all stadium tours. So I think the public is really drawn to seeing her in this very human relationship right now,” she explains.

“Taylor and Travis allow the public to experience collective joy and to take a break from troubles big and small,” says Brian Donovan, Ph.D., a sociology professor at the University of Kansas who teaches a course titled “The Sociology of Taylor Swift.” “There’s something stereotypically all-American about the couple that generates feelings of nostalgia for an allegedly simpler time.”

Electric touch: Timing is everything

With the public swooning, the massive exposure possibilities have inspired brands to hitch their wagons to this star romance and trendjack all the buzz.

According to Deadline, Marissa Solis, SVP of global brand and consumer marketing for the NFL, said once the relationship became public, the league could only do its best to react and make the most of it.

“You can’t be ahead of [the moment], but you can be just right there so you can be sure to take advantage and fully grow your audience,” she noted.

In addition to changing its social media bios to reflect Swift photos and lyrics, the NFL also met the moment through issuing content covering the football basics  to familiarize the singer’s fans with the rules of the game. 

When trendjacking works

Heinz released a limited-edition version of its sauce labeled “Ketchup and Seemingly Ranch” after Swift was photographed at a Kansas City Chiefs game next to a plate of chicken and two sauces, one of which an X account described as “seemingly ranch.”

This shocked Donovan, who believes “seemingly ranch” wouldn’t have gone beyond the Swift fan bubble a decade ago.

“But it’s lighthearted and low stakes, so it doesn’t really seem like pandering,” he says, noting that he was less surprised to see dozens of seemingly ranch shirts on Etsy. “There’s a huge secondary and tertiary Taylor-related marketplace that is generating untold millions of consumer spending.”

Hornaday thinks Heinz capitalizing on the moment was smart.

“At Barkley, we talk about the idea of a brand’s editorial authority—the topics a brand has the right and reason to comment on,” she explains. “We establish these way upfront, so when moments in culture arise, we know if it’s our place to jump in or sit on the sidelines.”

“More and more we see that one amazing real-time moment is more effective organically than any planned piece of content,” says Christine Cotter, Ogilvy’s head of social for North America. “Taylor Swift is a conversation driver like we’ve never seen. But, for brands, it has to be right and you have to be fast.”

Travis Kelce and Taylor Swift: The next great American dynasty?

Dimperio says forging a partnership within two concentric cultural spheres like music and sports is a savvy move that harnesses the power of social media and authentic storytelling.

“Social media is the conduit that instantaneously connects brands with their audience and amplifies the impact of these collaborations,” she explains. “Authentic storytelling then weaves the narratives that resonate with the values and interests of today’s consumers.”

“What’s interesting to me is how Taylor and Travis as brands have largely avoided being caught up in the culture war dynamics that have befallen other brands, like Target and Bud Light,” Donovan adds. “They obviously have deeply held political opinions, but they are being represented as an all-American love story instead of spokespersons for this or that political or social issue.”  

If the NFL can attract a segment of Taylor’s gigantic fan base, Dimperio thinks it could open doors for them to a broader audience.

“After all, in pop culture and marketing, experimenting with new ways to connect is part of the game,” he says.

I knew you were trouble: When trendjacking goes wrong

Cotter pushes her brands to first determine their relevance to a cultural conversation. 

“Why should your brand chime in? How is your message or link different?” she poses. “The easiest answer to that is when a product is directly mentioned or featured.”

Where it goes wrong, according to Hornaday, is when brands are just looking for relevance by jumping on every trend.

“Consumers know where your brand is welcome and where it’s not,” Hornaday says. “And with social media, they won’t be shy when telling you [that] you weren’t invited to the party.”

“When brands force it, it becomes what we like to call ‘brand Twitter’—social media people speaking to each other and chiming in like a brand and not a human, which is worse than not commenting at all,” Cotter adds.

Blank space no more: How to trendjack with grace

Dimperio details three ways brands can monitor for other cultural moments thrumming beneath the surface and use trendjacking to your advantage:

  1. TikTok trend surfing: TikTok is a hotbed for viral trends and challenges. Keep an eye on the most popular ones to gain rapid visibility and engagement, and find creative ways to participate authentically.
  2. Competitor analysis: Keeping tabs on competitors can reveal insights into their responses to cultural moments. Analyze their strategies to see what’s working and what’s not.
  3. Tastemakers and influencer engagement: Collaborate with influencers at the forefront of emerging cultural trends. You don’t need a Kim Kardashian-level of popularity. It’s about finding people that match your passion points and niche.

So will the girl from Pennsylvania and the boy from Ohio go the distance? At the time of this writing, things seem hopeful… but like all new love, still uncertain. This, however, should only cause Kelce and Swift’s collective star to keep rising.

“In life and marketing, it’s anticipation that keeps people coming back for more,” Dimperio says.

Photo by Patti McConville / Alamy Stock Photo.

Jill McDonnell

Jill McDonnell is a Chicago-based content writer and communications professional. She has a bachelor's degree in magazine journalism from the University of Missouri-Columbia and a master's degree in public relations and advertising from DePaul University. She is currently at work on a psychological thriller novel.