Twitter hashtags in advertising: aiming to be symbiotic

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In June 2012, Twitter aired its first TV commercial which ended with the hashtag #NASCAR. It was essentially showing brands how Twitter hashtags can be used to maximise live or  ‘current’ events. Most brands run campaigns with a ‘central idea’ for a short window of time. And the launch phase of the campaign is usually the most critical in determining whether the ideas gets traction both among mass media and niche social media target audience. One could even say that the relatively smaller audience on social media often fuel or at least have the potential to fuel a wider traction for a brand & its campaign. What works? Why do some hashtags float to the top of trending topics naturally? Why do some seem really forced and ‘desperately’ promoted? Herewith some unsolicited views:

Why use a hashtag in a TV commercial?: there is no denying that live events on TV are now instantaneous social events on the web. Thanks to smartphones & iPads, it is common for those following a live event to tweet about it. The second screen phenomenon is real. Consumers could also be sharing their views or observations on social media platforms like Facebook, but Twitter is most suited for instant, pithy comments and reactions thereof. No wonder brands and events like Oscar promote their ‘official’ Twitter account for such an activity. Facebook fan page has a role to play but for a different kind of activity – more suited for ‘reinforcement perhaps. Such a scenario is ideal for sporting events, live events and TV shows. Of late, several TV commercials from the US, especially around events like Super Bowl end with a Twitter hashtag. The last frame used to be reserved for the brand URL  (website or Facebook page) but now many adopt the hashtag. Doritos, Audi (#ProgressIs), Dr. Pepper come to mind. While many tweet about an event or the latest ad in auto response mode,  the presence of a hashtag on the TVC acts like a prompt…to take an action.

Not every ad or brand is conducive for a Twitter hashtag: most of the ads on air are of run-of-the-mill kind. Nothing startling about it  as it represents how most other ‘entertainment’ options work – for example, most of the films released are formulaic and run-of-the-mill. If the ad is a safe, category-code heavy (like some toothpaste ads) ad then the presence of a hashtag is not going to do much. But if you believe the ad is topical, interesting (in terms of plot, production or surprise factor) then you might consider using an appropriate hashtag. Also, famous or iconic brands can get away with just their brand name being a hashtag – not all brands can.

Ideally, plan for it before the TVC is made: advertising pundits advocate the creation of a media-neutral creative idea first in conjunction with all the specialists. The attempt is to plan for a creative expression of that idea which best suits a particular medium. If that happens, its great. If not, then at least being clear about which elements of the TVC or the way it will be exploited on Twitter should be clear.

Hashtags around the ad or the campaign idea? The baseline or the film title need not be the hashtag. The hashtag has to be conducive for the Twitter medium: it must provoke action, evoke imagination and creativity. For example, the tag line for the Audi commercial aired during the 2011 Super Bowl was: Luxury Has Progressed. On Twitter, the campaign related hashtag was #ProgressIs. The hashtag could very well have been the baseline but (a) the baseline was too long for a hashtag (b) it was definitive in terms of tone and not ‘open ended’. The open ended nature of the #ProgressIs hashtag was inviting, inclusive – it evoked an imaginative response or at least urged you to fill in the blanks.  The recent Frooti commercial starring Shahrukh Khan has had several Twitter hashtags around it.  Though the TVC itself did not promote a hashtag the popularity of the ad has helped create buzz on Twitter. The hashtags used are #MagicOf, #SRKlovesFrooti and so on. So the decision to define the hashtags around the campaign idea or the ad depends on the objectives set. If the attempt is to promote conversation about the ad itself (maybe because of the message or a creative element in it) then tying it with the ad makes sense. If the objective is to provoke conversation around the campaign or brand idea then reflecting it in the hashtag makes sense.


Prepare for junk: the official Mango Frooti Twitter account tweets this: Tell us about #MagicOf the woman in your life. Win iPads, iPods, Skullcandy headphones & SRK autographed jerseys. It is clearly aimed to create buzz around the ad and Women’s Day. Sample these tweets in response to that clear, well-defined ‘prompt’. Aside from nonsensical tweets, other brands from unrelated categories will jump into the bandwagon and try to hijack it if the hashtag is popular.

What does it do for the brand: just like the ROI question about Social Media, this too is relevant. Aside from plugging into consumer behaviour (TV watching is a social activity now), a well planned & executed Twitter campaign around the advertising is symbiotic in nature. It fuels interest about the ad & it s elements, creates buzz and renders a larger-than-life effect. What more, it can extend the conversation around the brand beyond the ad campaign period…it can extend the shelf life of the ad campaign itself. Now, which marketer would not like that? What are your views on this topic? Which campaigns Twitter hashtags made sense for you? Do comment in.
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