Sometimes I wish Twitter had patented hashtags and charged brands for using them. Hashtags are everywhere – in Breaking News blurbs on TV channels, print ads and of course, the dreaded Twitter contests. I can understand media houses trying to hashtag everything – they have content which can get updated by the minute and hashtags help to highlight a featured story. TimeNow of course has taken it to a comical levels inventing hashtags to push an agenda. What about brands? Done well, a hashtag can be integrated with the advertising’s core idea and helps campaign recall and engagement. Wendy’s #PretzelLoveSongs is a great example of a hashtag focused on amplifying the advertising idea.
As Twitter points out, hashtags were created organically by Twitter users as a way to categorise messages. Individuals use hashtag to simply provide a context, refer to an event.
Example uses, to quote Twitter Fan Wiki:
Events or conferences, e.g.: “Tara’s presentation on communities was great! #barcampblock”
Disasters: “#sandiegofire A shelter has opened up downtown for fire refugees.”
Memes: “My #themeword for 2008 is conduct.”
Context: “I can’t believe anyone would design software like this! #microsoftoffice”
Recall: “Buy some toilet paper. #todo”
Quote: “Great minds discuss ideas. Average minds discuss events. Small minds discuss people.” ~Eleanor Roosevelt #quote
Brands also use hashtags to provide context. But more importantly it is effective when used to evoke participation around an idea or event. In my view, consumer participation does not always mean engagement. When there is a silly, ‘replace movie names with for a prize, there are many who will participate. But real engagement is when the consumer is challenged creatively to contribute. As I said in an earlier post: 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. In that context, I saw the #MakeThingsBetter hashtag prominently in an ad for Total. Not having seen the TVC either online or on TV, I had no context to such a hashtag. It has the potential for contribution from many across topics but I doubt if that potential was leveraged – there isn’t much buzz around that hashtag.
Of course, focusing purely on creating buzz and trending has its own pitfalls. The bottom line: brands need to evaluate whether they really need a hashtag for every ad campaign (they don’t) and if they choose to use one, make sure it is (a) ownable by the brand (b) integrated well with the ad campaign either through baseline association or some other element and (c) allows for creative participation from the audience and engagement with them. Sorry if this was #CaptainObvious.