tv advertising hashtags

Social media allows brands to start conversations, but are they conversations worth starting?

Lately it seems like nearly every ad closes with an invitation to “join the conversation” with a dedicated Twitter hashtag. Over half of the Superbowl ads closed with a hashtag, and I’ve even seen hashtags at the end of cheesy local TV ads. Hashtags can be used effectively to amplify TV content, but I think many brands miss the point.

Many brands assume that consumers are dying to join a brand’s conversations. Instead, consumers have conversations with each other. Brands can be a part of those conversations, but the best examples I’ve seen are when they enable conversations that consumers are already having.

The marketing world is buzzing about “culture-jacking”, demonstrated by Oreo’s timely tweet during the Superbowl. When the power outage happened, Oreo quickly posted an Oreo image that said “You can still dunk in the dark”. It was clever and widely shared. The image provided a piece of media that helped consumers communicate about the power-outage.

But what I found far more compelling was Oreo’s “Daily Twist” campaign last summer. To celebrate 100 years of the Oreo, Oreo posted a new image every day for 100 days, using the Oreo to celebrate different events. It launched with a Gay Pride Oreo, and continued with Shark Week, Mars Rover, Elvis Week and 96 other images.

With “Daily Twist”, Oreo didn’t merely start brand-centric conversations that consumers could easily ignore. Instead, they inserted themselves in a positive way into conversations that consumers were already having.

A hashtag alone does not make a conversation. They are only a means to an end.

(Marketoonist Monday: I’m giving away one signed print of this week’s cartoon. Just share an insightful comment to this week’s post by 5:00 PST on Monday. I’ll pick one comment. Thanks!)

  1. Sandy Adam says

    I loved the hashtag promotions I saw last night while watching the Oscars red carpet show on E. From #Wantthathair from Pantene to #ERedCarpet using tweets to report on trends. When the Brand has a goal and intended outcome it’s a beautiful thing to watch.

  2. Kate Rumsey says

    Great post and so true! Another example where Nike do it so well with #MakeItCount – not only did they join conversations their brand was powerful enough to start them too.

  3. Marcy says

    The #StereotypicalHarley campaign is a great example of how a brand used a hashtag the right way. Not only did they start a conversation, they flipped the negative connotations that have been associated with their brand into a way to reinforce brand loyalty. And the whole concept was submitted by one of their customers on Facebook. Talk about engaging customers the right way on social media… But then, it’s Harley, and they get branding in a way few companies truly do.

  4. Dennis Van Staalduinen says

    Brilliant Tom! Love your closing statement. Indeed, a hashtag is NOT a conversation unto itself. Starting a hashtag is like creating a file folder for a conversation you WANT to have. But if there’s nothing to put in the file folder, well, I guess you never needed that file folder in the first place.
    Inspired by you, I just put out a call for #PointlessHashtags on Twitter. Love to see what people find.

  5. Ori Pomerantz says

    Capitalistic humility is the virtue of selling what people want to buy, not what you want to sell. In the case of social media, you are trying to get people to buy with their own attention and the attention of their friends.

    You might care deeply about creamed corn, but the target audience doesn’t. You to sell a message they care about, like .

  6. Stephen Lahey says

    Hilarious and insightful, as usual. I think that “conversations that consumers were already having” is the key phrase. I think that can work, if it’s done in a fun, personable way.

  7. Jake Barry says

    This recent use of hashtags over content relates to the poor use of QR codes that seemed to pollute many print ads over the past couple years (I even saw one plastered on the rear of a bus last week… seriously?). What I think both show is an utter miss by advertisers of the gap between content and mediums. Instead of creating art and content that resounds with the market, out of laziness (or simply ignorance), Twitter hashtags, QR codes, and Instagram photos become marketing plan “Social Media” line items.

  8. Deb says

    As I work for a large corporation who wants to inflict hashtags on everything, I totally agree. The only metric I see gathered is number of retweets (even if it’s by the employees) as if that’s the goal. I guess they like to hear themselves talk. It’s still very much using social channels just as they used traditional channels – me me me me.

  9. LauraLili says

    I have no time for careless hashtaggery! It’s the 2-way engagement that really counts: consumers using your hashtag is great, but it’s pointless if you don’t respond. And at the end of the day, the brand needs to successfully convert the conversation into revenue.

  10. Jennifer says

    Enjoying reading this post and many others! A hashtag campaign is expected to start (or continue) a conversation with consumers and let them share word of mouth about the brand. However, similar to other types of WOM, it could be either positive or negative. Think about how McDonald’s #McDStories backfired and ended with many bashtags. Marketers need to use their hashtags with more care & strategic planning. If a brand is building its hashtag on a current conversation (“borrowed interest”) consumers were already having, relevance helps its effectiveness.

  11. Julie says

    The person that buys creamed corn probably isn’t even on Twitter. Easy to follow the latest trend and forget our audience is so busy, harrassed by kids,worrying about paying bills, looking after sick relative etc they can’t even remember that creamed corn is on their shopping list let alone “insert latest social media” about it.PS: I hate creamed corn :-)

  12. #ThinkLikeMike says

    Hashtags on Twitter were organically developed by the users of Twitter to help categorize the “noise” of Twitter. They organically grow in the moment trending one minute and disappearing for all timeline the next. It’s true most of them are not conversation starters, but they are conversation finders. Twitter used to be that outlet for sharing your thoughts to whomever wanted to listen, just like Facebook originally showed just your Friends news feed. Now both of them, as well as YouTube are just littered by brands with what I like to call “TweetSpamInYouTubesFace”.

  13. #ThinkLikeMike says

    Brands would find better success if they joined trending conversations instead of trying to start one. Take for example tonight’s trending hashtag of #BackInJuniorHigh: A creamed corn company would be more memorable with something like “#BackInJuniorHigh Brand X Cream Corn was preferred by 4 out of 5 Lunch Ladys and everyone who flung it in food fights.”

  14. says

    Hi all,

    Great perspective from everyone, thanks! This week’s print goes to Ori. I really like the insight around capitalistic humility. Many thanks!


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