Twitter social media

Turn on your TV and watch an ad for anything from frozen peas to the latest family saloon, and you will usually find a hashtag somewhere in the messaging. In strategy/planning sessions recently, on almost every occasion someone has asked: “Do we have a hashtag?” My response is usually: “Do we need one?”

Given the advance of mobile technology and ‘second screen’ there is a real opportunity for brands to stimulate audience engagement by asking a question of the viewer with some kind of call to action. So it’s tempting to implement a hashtag. But oh so rarely is it executed correctly.

As a basic rule of thumb, if you want your audience to pick up their phone during an ad break to at the very least tweet your hashtag, you’d better make it worth their while. Is your creative exceptional, entertaining, remarkable? Is your campaign offering the audience value in exchange for “joining the conversation”? Finally, when you watch your TV creative, have you asked yourself: “Would I tell my friends about this campaign? Would I share this content? Would I talk to complete strangers on Twitter or Facebook about it?” If the answer is no, you should perhaps go back to the drawing board, or consider not using one at all.

“A hashtag-based call to action can work well if used correctly”

I’m not writing to argue that hashtags have no place in above-the-line or through-the-line messaging, quite the contrary. Only last week, Wyke Farms registered a hashtag as a trademark based on the success of its #freecheesefriday social media campaign. 

A hashtag-based call to action can work well if executed correctly. Hashtags can be great for TV in particular, as brands can report on the engagement and impact of their above-the-line messaging or campaigns by monitoring and interpreting spikes in social audience data correlating to broadcast times. 

Added to that is the benefit of earned, trusted advocacy that brands can build through the audience sharing social hashtags or content organically with their peers. 

Last weekend, I watched a slick piece of creative for steam-in-the-bag frozen peas/veg. Underneath the final strap message there was a hashtag that might as well have been “#frozenpeas.” We must ask, what was this brand hoping would happen: mums all over Britain hitting Twitter to discuss the merits of steam-fresh peas? Or is a more likely explanation that someone in the planning session asked the question, “Do we have a hashtag?” I’m guessing it was probably the latter. 

It seems that we as marketeers have a few questions to resolve among ourselves before shoehorning this useful mechanic into brand messaging simply because we can.

John Barton is managing partner and co-founder of TestifyDigital